Shweta has always loved hair and makeup. As a new cosmetology graduate, she is so confident in the demand for her services that she already plans to open her own salon.
“It’s a blossoming concept in India. More people want to look their best,” says the 24-year-old, who uses one name and holds an honours history degree. This week, she graduated from the VLCC Institute of Beauty, Health and Management.
Shweta is part of a small but growing army of hair stylists, massage therapists, makeup artists and diet advisers feeding India’s booming health and wellness industry. And thanks to growing demand and high attrition, such jobs represent hope for many unskilled women to share India’s prosperity. Though the 2007 India Retail Report projects the total health and beauty care services market to Rs3,300 crore, some project it could more than double to Rs8,000 crore in the next few years.
Thus, trained personnel are hard to find and harder to keep. VLCC Health Care Ltd CEO Yogesh Sethi says the company’s attrition rate stands at about 6%, but runs 15-20% across the sector.
“Every single spa in this country is trying to take from everybody else,” agreed Colin Hall, spa director for the pricey Ananda resort in the Himalayas. “If you’ve got someone fully trained, someone is ready to steal, steal, steal.”
The health and beauty care services market—which also includes personal-care products and slimming, fitness and cosmetic surgery centres—is estimated to be growing at about 15% per year, according to the retail report. Though it represents about a tenth of the total, the organized sector, which includes chains such as VLCC, Lakme Beauty Salons and Kaya Skin Clinic, grew to Rs350 crore in 2006 from Rs200 crore the year before.
But unlike the retail or business process outsourcing sectors, technical skills are important; a hot-stone massage or facial peel gone wrong can cause serious harm. There is a “massive gap between people who know what they are doing and the demand for people to do it,” says Hall. “Training in this area is vital. You need the right knowledge of anatomy and physiology.”
Like VLCC and Lakme, which also runs academies, Ananda trains its own people, requiring a high school education and conversational English. However, it plans to open its own academy next year in Hyderabad, prompted by a “dearth of good training schools in India,” Hall said.
Training doesn’t come cheap. The VLCC academies charge Rs40,000-60,000 per year-long course, depending on the city. An entry-level hair stylist or cosmetologist at one of the company’s salons typically earns between Rs6,000 and Rs10,000 a month, with dieticians at slimming centres earning even more, Sethi said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised in the next few years if beauty or cosmetology modules are full-fledged offerings at the CBSE level,” said Sethi.
Though the organized sector is largely training its own people and hiring employees from competitors, the unorganized sector is turning to all corners to find enough pairs of hands. With echoes of past initiatives to provide women with handlooms and sewing machines to counter poverty, many NGOs and some corporations such as steel investor Posco India are running vocational programmes that teach poor women to wield thread, scissors and nail polish as a means of supporting themselves.
Delhi’s Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust has found its beauty and cosmetology course among the most popular, says founder Uma Tuli. Her students, whom she describes as the “poorest of the poor”, transition from courses—teachers were trained by VLCC staff—to run home-based beauty parlours.
“It’s a great tool for empowerment because it doesn’t require a lot of investment to start out,” she said. “It used to be that people only wanted to go for bridal makeup. These days, people want to go for everything.”