Utah 12-Year-Old Gives Trims as an Official Barber Apprentice
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — Becoming better often means accepting criticism with class. At Ray Francom’s American Beauty Academy, students learn quickly to catch critiques with a smile.
“As they start to develop and get better and better, I get more picky,” Francom said. “At the end of the day, I’m not doing them any service if I let them put out work that isn’t to the standard they want to see when they go out into the real world.”
The big yellow sign on the front door reads “$5 Haircuts.” Inside are two long rows of chairs and mirrors, many stations filled with young barbers-to-be.
Francom hops from spot to spot, pointing out potential issues. Standing next to one student, he gives some pointers on how to comfortably attach a cape to someone’s neck. At another, he explains the best method for cutting around a child’s cowlick.
Along with some partners, Francom opened this place to help pass along his prowess. Here, follicles are in the blood.
“My dad and my grandfather were both barbers,” he said. “My dad encouraged me to learn, just as a skill to have. I never felt like I was forced to do it — I went to school and I tried other professions, but I’ve always just gravitated back to barbering. It’s just something I’ve enjoyed.”
Francom prides himself on teaching more than just the basics — he knows many of those he teaches will go on to run their own small businesses, so he also focuses on issues like taxes, budgeting, and even how to make small talk so clients feel more comfortable in the chair.
But for one of his students, the old haircutting chitchat is a little different than most. Instead of banter about sports or the weather, a few minutes spent within earshot will likely lead to hearing about Ninja Turtles or his dislike for Spongebob Squarepants.
In a place built around passing on tradition, he may be the most untraditional barber you’ll ever meet.
“Yeah, it’s kind of uncomfortable having a 12-year-old as your barber.” he said.
His name is Jayden — and yes, he’s 12.
“If they don’t trust me, then it’s, you know, their loss,” he said. “Sometimes they’re like, ‘Umm, I’ll just wait for another barber.'”
But Jayden’s a bit of a veteran — he’s been at this since he was 7 years old. A kid sits in his chair, getting a star-shaped pattern cut in the back of his head. His current client’s name is Tevin Day, and while he certainly qualifies as a “kid,” he’s also a year older than the one cutting his hair.
“It’s different than having it cut by a more trained person, I guess,” Day said. “But after going to him for a while, I like it and feel comfortable.”
“When I have him in the shop, customers are always in awe,” Francom said with a smile. They’re always telling their kids that are around his age, they’re like, ‘What are you doing with your life?'”
Jayden’s well aware of being at a slightly accelerated stage of development when it comes to workplace experience.
“It’s kind of funny when the teacher’s like, ‘You guys don’t have jobs, you don’t know how hard this is,'” he said. “And then I’m like, ‘Umm, I kind of do.'”
For Jayden, this isn’t just a hobby — not only does he get paid, he’s actually earned an official title from the state of Utah.
“The lady over the phone said there’s no age limit,” Jayden said. “I’d say I’m like the youngest barber apprentice in the state.”
“They were a little concerned with his age,” Francom said. “They were thinking, you know, with somebody that young, were they capable of holding the tools in a safe way? I had videos of him cutting hair, so I was able to show them that he’s capable and he’s doing okay with it.”
Francom says the state asked to get back to him, after conducting some research with their testing agency and the Labor Department.
“They were like, ‘Wow, there is no age limit on an apprentice for barbering,'” he said. “As long as they’re capable of learning and passing the state exams, they could actually work towards licensure.”
But around here, every day is more difficult than the last — criticism is more common than clippers.
“He’s like a perfectionist,” Jayden said, talking about how often Francom inspects his work. “Every small detail he sees, he wants to get perfect.”
And if you want to know why a 12-year-old is studying to become a barber, Jayden doesn’t hesitate to give an answer.
“Everyone at school always wanted to be what their dad wanted to be,” he said. “Same with me, I always wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
He’s set his sights high, because his full name is Jayden Francom — his dad is also his teacher.
“I’m really proud,” Ray said. “He’s caught on so well, and he’s very artistic as it is. He likes to draw, and things like that, so it’s really fun to see him progress in what he’s doing.”
Jayden isn’t sure if this will be end up being a career for him — right now, he’s carrying on tradition, on his way to becoming a fourth generation barber. And he’s also following the family’s advice, trying to learn a trade before looking to see if something else might be a better fit.
But as his father moves around the room, squinting at every sideburn, Jayden says he’s come to terms with having his dad looking over his shoulder as his biggest critic.
“Sometimes I get a little annoyed with it, but it’s part of learning you have to go through,” he said.
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