Published: 13 May 2024

The Hairdressing Employment Landscape in Post-Brexit, Post-Pandemic UK

Brexit and Covid-19 have significantly disrupted hairdresser hiring in the UK, leading to labour shortages impacting salons and slowing economic growth in the sector.

Executive Summary

The UK hairdressing industry is facing serious challenges in recruiting and retaining skilled labour in the aftermath of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. Tighter immigration rules following Brexit have reduced the influx of EU hairstylists that salons previously relied upon. The pandemic’s enforced lockdowns and salon closures led to widespread job losses and disrupted training pathways. This report analyses the causes of the current hiring difficulties and economic implications.

Impact of Brexit on Hairdresser Hiring

The UK’s withdrawal from the EU single market in 2021 ended free movement of labour from the continent. New immigration rules make it harder for EU nationals to obtain visas for hairdressing roles not meeting high salary thresholds. According to National Hairdressers’ Federation data, annual EU stylist recruitment fell 65% between 2019-2023.

“We are struggling to attract the talent from Europe we once did. British applicants alone cannot fill our vacancies.” (Michelle Thompson, London Salon Owner)

This labour squeeze increases operating costs for salons having to offer higher wages and recruitment incentives like relocation packages. It may also price out consumers as haircut prices rise.

Pandemic’s Lingering Effect

When Covid-19 forced salons to close for months in 2020-21, an estimated 22% of UK hairdressers permanently left the industry. Training was severely disrupted, stemming new entrants. Client numbers dropped due to public health fears and decreased disposable income levels.

“We’re still well below 2019 staffing levels as demand lags pre-pandemic norms.” (Stephanie Jones, NHF Economist)

Some upskilling and investment in domestic training academies is beginning to rebuild the workforce. However, significant gaps remain given the industry’s pre-pandemic reliance on non-UK labour.

Economic Consequences

The British Beauty Council estimates the recruitment crisis cost salons £94m in lost revenue last year from spas and salons shortening hours or declining appointments. With over 48,000 UK hairdressing establishments, the knock-on impacts on consumer spending in local economies are significant.

Reduced hairstyling services available may also weigh on the UK’s projected £28.4 billion personal grooming market growth if labour shortages in the sector persist. High levels of unfilled vacancies run the risk of stymying economic recovery if salons cannot meet rising demand.

Industry Outlook and Strategies

Hairdressing remains a mobile, flexible career path which could benefit from government programs promoting vocational training to attract new domestic entrants. Further opportunities exist to streamline hair professional visa processes to access talent globally. Given the industry’s economic contributions, alleviating its recruitment challenges are important for both employers and policymakers.

Key Takeaways:

  • Brexit and Covid created severe stylist shortages in UK hair salons
  • Higher wages are squeezing profitability and increasing costs for consumers
  • Economic growth in £28bn personal grooming sector hinges on available labour
  • Policy support, vocational training and visa reforms could help address hiring gaps

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