A variety of schools, from expensive private courses to a free program offered by an NGO working with street children, offer a lucrative career choice.
Salon students at Friends International's Mith Samlanh tend to their customers last week.
From the roadside barber to the top-end salon, the beauty industry in Phnom Penh offers something for everyone, at very affordable prices. While the quality remains highly variable, recent market developments are likely to result in the offering of more professional services as more beauty therapist hopefuls seek formal training.
"We need to keep up with the market so our students can find good jobs," said Natalie Elverd, a technical adviser at the NGO Friends International, in reference to recent renovations at the beauty rooms and nail bar of the organisation's Mith Samlanh school.
"We did the upgrade because we need to follow changes in the local economy. There has been an increase in salons, so we wanted to improve placement opportunities for our young people by providing them with a better learning environment to gain increasingly better skills," she said, adding that the renovations were made possible thanks to aid from the Australian government.
The Mith Samlanh students, who were formerly street children, are given the opportunity to choose a career in hair and beauty care from a variety of other potential careers.
While the beauty rooms are open to the public only during the centre's monthly flea markets, the nail bar inside the Friends 'n' Stuff shop is open on a daily basis and allows students to gain experience in a real working environment. "The idea behind opening this business for the students is for them to have hands-on training with the public. It gives them the opportunity to gain confidence and improve their [future]
placement opportunities," Elverd said. She added that the training at Mith Samlanh also encompasses personal hygiene, customer service skills, how to care for and sterilise tools and how to keep the workspace clean.
"The training is of good standard, as well as constantly improving. The students are very popular and in high demand in the employment market. We often have job opportunities waiting for them," said Elverd, who herself has 20 years of experience from the Australian beauty industry.
There are several other beauty schools around Phnom Penh as well, catering to vast amounts of beauty therapist hopefuls, mainly girls. While the training at Mith Samlanh is free, many private schools charge significant amounts of money for their training programs.
Christina's Beauty School on Sihanouk Boulevard has achieved a good reputation in the Cambodian beauty industry during its almost decade- long existence. Here, an eight- to 10-month full course costs $590 and covers a curriculum of 19 subjects, while shorter courses focussing on specific skills are also available. Owner Sun Heang said the school is attended by more than 300 students, with recent graduates usually earning between $50 and $100 per month, depending on skills. "Once they finish the course, we also offer them the opportunity to work here in my salon, or else we help them find employment somewhere else," she said, adding that there is constant interest in the courses she offers.
THE TRAINING IS OF GOOD STANDARD, AS WELL AS CONSTANTLY IMPROVING.
Socheat Beauty School offers training similar to Christina's, albeit at a slightly higher cost of $750 for a full course. Srei Oun, 23, has been studying there for approximately eight months along with some 100 other trainees. "I like it here. I have a lot of friends, also. My favourite thing is cutting hair," she said, though was slightly insecure about how much longer it would take for her to master all the skills necessary for a good job in the industry.
Srei Oun's sister Srei Neang, 27, has been a hairdresser for 15 years and in contrast to her sibling learned the trade through working her way up. "I started by working at Central Market when I was 12 doing manicures and pedicures, but have since worked at the salons of many top-end hotels," Srei Neang explained. "You can make a good living as a hairdresser," she added.
A recent renovation at Mith Samlanh will offer more varied training for the growing number of students in the beauty sector.
Srei Neang thinks it's better to learn while working, as opposed to going to school. "You can practise in reality straight away, and also you earn money," she said, noting that formal training can be too expensive for many people. Nevertheless, she does acknowledge that there are many salons in Phnom Penh where staff have no training whatsoever and that this is a problem. "They can open anywhere, but they don't know how to do [the services provided]" she said.
As the industry develops, services provided are likely to improve as more salons have professionally trained staff. A downside of this may be an increase in prices, yet for the time being hair and beauty treatments remain affordable to most, even if their quality is sometimes dubious.
The revamped Nail Bar at Friends 'n' Stuff will be open for business at the next Friends flea market, on Saturday, March 28.