More than skin deep

Kala Neumann's hands and nails are soft and perfectly manicured. The nails she's working on could use a little help. Neumann is one of eight students enrolled in Yukon College's Skills for Employment in Esthetics program.

Kala Neumann’s hands and nails are soft and perfectly manicured.

The nails she’s working on could use a little help.

Neumann is one of eight students enrolled in Yukon College’s Skills for Employment in Esthetics program.

Each Friday the class gets a chance to do some hands-on learning by pampering staff and fellow students.

Last week the small classroom was full of students giving manicures and pedicures. In the back of the room one student was focused on learning how to tint someone’s eyelashes and wax their eyebrows.

The whole room smelled faintly of lime and grapefruit thanks to a homemade sugar scrub.

The 15-week program started in January and is scheduled to wrap up near the end of April.

For the first month students learn how to give a proper manicure. That’s followed by months focusing on pedicures, facials, makeup, and hair.

It’s the hair classes that Neumann is looking forward to most, she said.

“I like it. I’m more into the hair and makeup, but we haven’t started hair yet,” she said while applying a coat of shiny purple nail polish.

Staff and students who come in to get work done pay a small portion of what they would at an established salon.

Money earned on spa days goes towards specialized equipment kits for the graduates to use when they’re ready to start work. In all, they’ll each need about $200 worth of supplies.

Students are given a taste of the esthetics business, said instructor Gina Alaric. Some will move on to further education Outside while others could get entry level positions and apprenticeships at local salons.

Even if they don’t choose a future in esthetics, the course is designed to help students pick up other useful skills.

On days that they are not learning about hair and nails, the class works to upgrade their math and reading skills. They also design their own business cards and brochures, and work on resumes and cover letters.

Last year, one student who didn’t go on to work in esthetics was able to get a job at Minto mine, Alaric said.

“I bumped into her at the grocery store and she said ‘Gina, I just bought a new Malibu car.’ So she learned how to come on time, she learned how to be committed to something. We did her resume and cover letters, she got the job and now she’s got a new car.”

Neumann, who is from Carcross, said she hopes to stay in esthetics once she graduates.

“I want to try and get a job in a salon, or I’m thinking I might move to Teslin or Carcross, I’m not sure yet,” she said.

She first heard about the program after searching the college’s website. She’s always been the kind of person who would help her friends with their hair, she said.

“I never really did nails that much but I’ve always liked doing makeup and hair a lot.”

On a busy Friday, the class can see as many as 25 people come in for treatment during the three hours the spa is open.

Staff jumped at the chance to help out, said Alaric.

“They love supporting them. Even though they go out and maybe sometimes the nails aren’t perfect, they don’t care because it’s giving the students a chance to experience it.”

The program was launched last year after a recommendation from the college president’s advisory committee on First Nations initiatives.

Local First Nations had been sending young people Outside to take esthetics courses, but many students were returning home unsuccessful, said Alaric.

“They kept sending their students out to Vancouver and Edmonton to esthetics or beauty courses. The students would move out, it was very expensive and the students might not be successful so they’d end up quitting,”

she said.

Tuition for an Outside program can be as much as $20,000, Alaric said. The college’s skills program costs around $1,000.

The committee advised the college to “have something here so the students can get a taste of esthetics or beauty so that we’re not pouring all this money out of the Yukon,” she said.

Students have come from communities around Yukon and as far away as the Northwest Territories. The class is open to both First Nations and non First Nations students.

Alaric said many people can be overwhelmed coming from a small community to bigger cities down south, but Whitehorse is less frightening.

“Most of these girls are single moms so you know, it’s close for them to come and experience school at the college rather than going Outside to Edmonton and Vancouver,” she said.

The college plans to run the course again next year.

“We’ve already had a lot of people say they’re interested,” Alaric said.

Contact Ashley Joannou at a