Backlash as tattoo studio offers ’35 hour-week 2-year unpaid’ position

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A tattoo studio has been met with outrage online after posting a job listing for a ’35 hour-week two-year unpaid apprenticeship’.

The details were posting online on the studio’s Facebook page. However, the page has since been removed following the backlash.

The post was shared to Reddit, reports My London, where it soon sparked outrage. The post, by Cherry Blossom Tattoo in Westferry, east London, read: “Dear Cherry Blossom friends and friends not yet found.

“In the new year of 2023, we will be looking to offer a studio tattoo apprenticeship!! It’s been a few years since we have been able to do this due to lockdowns and the world not really functioning and so I expect lots of applicants. As stated, this is a studio apprenticeship and so many different skills will need to be shown. As our industry changes, so must our artists and therefore our apprentices.

“This will be a two-year adventure, with tattooing being the FINAL skill obtained. Our new apprentice will need to be in the studio at least five days a week (10.30am till 6pm ish) to help manage the reception, clients, artists needs and social media accounts.

“Cleaning, hygiene, and safety practices are the most important part of a studio’s existence (licencing laws) and so these fall largely to ‘you’ as our studio apprentice. Daily duties will be necessary before the ‘learning’ time is given. The new apprentice will learn from and assist all the artists but will be under the mentorship of Jack Human. Jack is a great artist with lots of technical knowledge to offer, but he isn’t ‘soft touch’, so don’t expect to be handled with cotton wool gloves! (Latex is as good as it gets).

“I (James [the owner]) will oversee and have the council authority to advance an apprentice to a licenced artist. This will be an UNPAID apprenticeship, but you will also not be charged for your education. Simply… the more effort you put in, the more willing the artists are to teach.

“When/if you ascend to a licensed artist, you will be expected to work here at Cherry Blossom Tattoo for at least one full year to repay the costs of your time spent taking knowledge. Please apply via email with a portfolio of your artistic abilities and anything else you think will help you be selected. We will be having interviews once we feel we have enough applicants with potential to succeed in our industry.”

Londoners were quick to slam the post in the Reddit comments. One person wrote: “What a joke of an advert. What is wrong with this country we should be actively training the youth of today not exploiting them.”

One Londoner said: “Have to work for a year to pay it back.. F*** off, they’ve saved you hiring a receptionist, cleaner, social media manager and no doubt general skivvy for TWO years. Hope society cancels them. Pure exploitation and modern slavery come to mind… What’s the guarantee they don’t tell them to f*** off after 1.5 years and they’ve learned nothing. Bear in mind it says, tattooing is the last thing to be taught.”

According to the UK government, apprentices are entitled to National Minimum Wage and other employee rights. Those aged 19 and over who have completed their first year are entitled to National Living Wage. The failure to pay the appropriate wages could earn businesses up to £20,000 in fines according to Acas.

In response to the backlash, Cherry Blossom Tattoo told MyLondon: “To begin, let me say we are thoroughly shocked by this response to our post. The tattoo industry has always operated this way and we’ve never heard anything negative about it. I myself had the same opportunity over 20 years ago and considered it a gift and not servitude. I think the issue is that people are considering this ‘slave labour’ but it is not a job and nobody is contracted or tied to anything.

“On reflection it seems the best way to explain it to someone who is not in our industry is this: a tattoo apprenticeship is not a job, it is education. We can not and do not pay to teach. In my experience, no learning outside of school education is free, let alone paid.

“There are no council or government schools for learning to tattoo, there are modern courses that can be paid for but these are not well received by working artists as the time spent is not long enough to attain the skills and knowledge required. We have spoken with government agencies about funding, but the closest course we could have received money for would be for a ‘phlebotomy’ course.

“With any normal degree, the student is expected to pay fees of something like £10,000 – £15,000 for a two-year course. The same student would usually then need some kind of part time work (mornings, evenings and weekends) to subsidise their life. They would have long hours and not much time to themselves.

“After two years of this, they then need to find work that suits their education, and pay off large debts for many years to come. This opportunity would have been aimed at a similar aged person to a graduate (18-23). Many at that age would be living with family still and have minimal financial needs. Some may live in flat shares etc, and would usually need or have part time work to subsidise their studies.

“With a tattoo apprenticeship, you pay no fees monetarily, but you pay with your time and effort. Working artists charge around £100 per hour for their time and so giving this away for free to an apprentice is not always viable. What the apprentice does, is help the artists to free up time by helping with smaller tasks like cleaning and client liaison etc.

“When the artist then has time free, they can teach the apprentice that helped them in return. Artists will often ‘tip’ the apprentice at the end of a busy day when the apprentice has helped the day go well. As time passes, the apprentice knows more and can do more .. and so the tips grow.

“Usually after a few months, an apprentice may have learned to do simple piercing and so can earn the usual commission for the work done. At around the one year mark, the apprentice should/could be good enough to start tattooing at apprentice rates and so therefore more income can be attained. This will often be on the artist’s existing clients and so again, the artists (and studio) are forfeiting their own income to guide the apprentice. At this point, they can then begin reducing their other work schedule to focus more on the studio. After two years (all going well) the apprentice becomes a licenced tattooist by the council.

“They are ready to work and fully prepared for their new career. They are in no financial debt to banks or government. We ask for one year working with us to help repay the losses incurred by the studio (time, ink, needles, practice skin and art supplies etc.) which we have always provided to our apprentices.

“This year is not insisted, just asked for. It also offers the chance to have a job immediately, (which most are grateful for) to build a client base and more confidence before branching out if it suits them. I have known many artists over the years and pretty much all of us worked through an apprenticeship much like this.

“We have never mistreated or been accused of doing so any apprentice and we have many passed who now have thriving careers. I hope that this brings some clarity to people outside of our industry and that you can see this is in no way slavery. It is simply education paid for with time instead of student loans. Some make it, some do not, but walk away with no debt.”

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