Article | Category: Spa Operations Human Resources

TALENT TOPICS: Working with Local Schools
by Jamison Stoike

Looking for new talent? Here are five ways to work with local schools to genreate future spa industry professionals.

If you struggle to find qualified nail techs, estheticians, stylists or massage therapists—or if you struggle to replace them as quickly as they move on— know that you’re not alone. The 2019 ISPA U.S. Spa Industry Study reported that there were an estimated 28,420 unfilled service provider positions in the United States as of May 2019; 54 percent of spas at the time were actively trying to fill positions. In the end, it’s a numbers game: there are too many unfilled positions and not enough service providers to fill them. For this reason, driving prospective service providers into the spa industry is imperative to getting off the hiring treadmill—and to do that, it can often be beneficial to work with local massage and cosmetology schools.

Every new student that graduates is a potential longtime employee in your organization, so it behooves you to work with your local schools to help lead fresh faces into the industry. But how can you best help your local schools? I met with the staff of Lexington Healing Arts Academy, a massage, yoga and fitness school that’s just a mile from ISPA’s headquarters, to discuss what ISPA members can do to support their own local schools and build lasting partnerships. According to them, here are five things you can do to help drive workforce growth:

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Start the Conversation

Productive partnerships don’t come out of the ether: someone has to be the first to reach out. Give your local schools a call or send an email to let them know about yourself, your spa and your hiring needs. Let them know that you’re available as a resource to them, too—whether that means attending a career day or teaching a class on spa, every time you work with them is an opportunity for you to get your spa in front of future massage therapists, nail technicians and estheticians.

2. Provide Them with Marketing Materials

While everyone in the spa industry is aware of the labor shortage, those outside the industry have no idea that there are nearly 30,000 jobs available for
service providers in U.S. spas alone. “I get a lot of apprehensive individuals that wonder if a person can make money doing this, if the market is flooded,” says Amy Ball, the admissions and financial aid coordinator at Lexington Healing Arts Academy. “People think the market is flooded with massage therapists.”

While the staff at Lexington Healing Arts Academy was aware that massage therapy is a high-growth industry, they were nonetheless surprised at the scope of the shortfall when I shared with them the number of open positions. It’s critical that spas and the spa industry help schools communicate this information to prospective students.

“As an accredited school, there’s only so much that the Department of Education will allow us to say, because we can’t misrepresent employment opportunities,” notes Bill Booker, executive director. “But to have industry statistics that say that there are 28,000 jobs, and this is the average pay, would be huge.”

Put together an info sheet or a pamphlet for your local schools with some of the information from the latest ISPA research, such as the number of total service provider openings and average compensation for various service provider types. Share numbers that show the continued growth of the industry. Include written testimonials from your therapists about what it’s like to work in the spa industry. Tout the spa lifestyle, too, and the benefits of working at your spa. Massage and cosmetology schools need real-world information from real-world spas to help sell new students on the potential of a career in spa, but they can’t tell that story on their own.

“We need to paint a story of the employment opportunities out there,” Booker says. “What does that career look like? Most of our inquiries come here through word-ofmouth from friends or family. The vast majority of people have no idea what that [career] really looks like.”

3. In Return, Let Them Market in Your Spa

People don’t decide to go into massage therapy out of the blue—typically, they’ve had a terrific experience at a spa that has inspired them to pursue a new career. “Nine out of ten individuals who come in to ask about the school say, ‘I’ve gotten massages, I really like it and I want to help people feel like this,’” says Ball.

That means that your next massage therapist or esthetician may not be at the local school—in fact, they may currently be one of your most dedicated spa-goers. Booker adds, “I think, honestly, that new therapists are probably walking in their [the spa’s] doors every day. They just need to help us recruit them.”

If your local school has pamphlets or promotional onesheeters, ask if you can display them in your spa’s lobby, Booker suggests. “Your employees don’t have to push anything, but a customer may see that and start thinking.” If a spa-goer asks your staff about the school or a career in spa, be willing to evangelize for the spa industry; soon, that spa-goer may become the newly licensed massage therapist or nail tech that your spa has been looking for. And, because they’ve had positive experiences at your spa as a customer, they’re likely to join your team already possessing a measure of loyalty to your spa and pride in its brand.

4. Share the Benefits of a Career in Spa

While every school is different, I’ve often heard from ISPA members that there’s a broad perception among spas that massage schools encourage therapists to pursue careers as independent practitioners. Therefore, one way to increase the number of newlyminted therapists who are interested in working at your spa is to extol the benefits of working at a spa instead of on one’s own.

A number of ISPA members have had success with teaching classes about spa to massage therapists; during these classes, they focus in on how spas provide an immediate client list while handling scheduling, offering traditional benefits and eliminating the hassle of running one’s own business. These members also highlight the social benefits of working and collaborating with a team of spa professionals.

To make life in a spa more attractive to new graduates, it’s important to keep in mind why massage therapists are interested in working on their own in the first place: flexibility. “Massage therapists like flexibility,” notes Booker. “They don’t like a full book, generally speaking.” If you’re willing and able to offer therapists, estheticians or nail techs flexible hours or part-time work, while still offering the traditional benefits of working at a spa, then attracting new service providers should be easy.

It’s also critical to share with students that spa offers a path for career advancement—lead therapist, spa manager, spa director and more, depending on where they work. According to the staff at Lexington Healing Arts Academy, most massage therapists that they train—especially those that practice independently or in a clinical setting (hospital, chiropractic)—don’t fully understand that they can move beyond massage therapy. “I think it’s unclear what that career path looks like,” Booker says, adding, “I think most of them just think, ‘I’m a massage therapist,’ and that’s it. That would excite them to know that they could become spa director.”

5. Let Them Know When You Have an Open Position

If all else fails, this is an easy way to help your local schools and help your spa. When I spoke with Lexington Healing Arts Academy, they mentioned that one of the easiest ways to help a program is to simply let them know two things: that there are jobs available in the industry, and that there are jobs available at your spa. Keep your local schools informed of your job openings and they’ll be champing at the bit to place their students at your spa. After all, placement is perhaps the most important metric to massage and cosmetology schools, so they’re already incentivized to nudge graduates towards your job openings.

Of course, you can simplify it even further by sharing the ISPA Job Bank with them. While only members can post jobs, anyone is able to search the database. Post your open positions to the Job Bank and then share the URL with any local schools. If there are multiple schools in the area, this is an easy way to keep all of them informed about your spa’s openings without having to communicate individually with each one.

When In Doubt, Talk

In the end, the best thing you can do is to talk to your local schools. They know what the next generation of massage therapists, estheticians, nail techs or stylists look for in an employer. Use their knowledge to shape how you lead your team. In turn, offer yourself as a subject-matter expert on spa in order to help them recruit more students, prepare them more effectively for work in spas and, eventually, place them into open positions at your spa. In the end, schools and spas are both chasing the same goal: to fill those 28,420 service provider positions.