December 4th, 2017
Based in a suburb of Amsterdam is one of the most successful make-up schools in Europe. Famed for the quality of their teaching and the employability of their students, ROC Amsterdam’s three year Makeup Diploma springboards students in to the world of work.
It all began 12 years ago with eight students housed in an old building in central Amsterdam and was driven by the industry itself who was looking to establish a training route for apprentices into the industry. The industry and the brand association, VGN talked to a lot of schools to gauge their interest, but they all declined because it’s expensive to run and not a lot of students will take it up. However, the directors of ROC were interested, as was the Director of Beauty and Hair – and the course was born.
Running over three years with 44 students in each year in the two classes making a total of 110 students, it has a high success rate with around 40 students graduating each year. Taking great pride in the diversity of what is taught: from high fashion to media; beard, moustache and wig making to hair styling; SFX, airbrushing and bodypainting, they’re justifiably proud of their students.
“We have a very rigorous selection process,” explains Course Manager, Jolanda van Vliet, “with around 300 applicants for the 44 places. We’re not the only government school to offer a make-up course – there’s another in Arnhem which is close to the German border where there are a lot of theatres and it services that sector of the industry – but we have a bigger curriculum and more specialist teachers who are with us for a couple of days a week and are working in the industry for the rest. They’re very current in what they’re doing, and they take students on work experience with them. They are always working in the industry, it’s one of our USPs. We also have great international teachers coming here – Maria Malone-Guerbaa, Dave Power from PS Composites, Love Larson and Eva Von Bahr teach Masterclasses there.”
Originally validated by BTEC, the course is in the process of transferring to VTCT. Jolanda comments, “We first started out with BTEC and noticed that there is a lot of paperwork. The emphasis is on the student and everything needs to be written down, whereas VTCT is more holistic and about understanding the connections. For the teacher, we can check off as they complete their work – not having to write down “I did this and then I did that”. VTCT is more about the practical part – it’s much more what the industry is like. And it’s very portable. With that diploma, they can head to the UK and get more training.”
Tutor, Petra Louriero, tells us that their interview process is designed to unlock potential. “When we do the intake with students that have to bring a model with them and show us in 30 minutes what they can do. Our current students are mixing with them and we see how they interact with them and with the model. It doesn’t matter whether what they do is great or not, it’s about interactions. It’s a very big aspect of the job. The social talk with the client is as important as what you create. With the school, the social aspect is important – and it’s something that you can’t learn, whereas a good teacher can show them technique and they can practice. Students who are good communicators and are nice people will always work. Being able to connect with other people make a good member of a team.”
How is the course funded? As it’s a government-based school, students only have to pay for their own kit and materials, and the government pay the tuition fees to the schools. There are private schools in Holland too, though they specialise in particular areas, whereas ROC is more complete and covers the whole industry, including wigs which are not taught in many schools in Holland. ROC works with real European hair and every two years head to Madrid to select which hair the teachers want for their students.
The course is hands on from the outset. On Day One students learn hair knotting and making a moustache, by Christmas they more or less have the basics and start to do more at this point. Students work a lot on each other, although they do need to work on models for specialist classes such as black skins. In the first year, they cover a lot – beauty, theatre, wig making and hairstyling including cutting for men and women as well as black hair, with SFX and bodypainting added in Year Two. Throughout the three years, students study Dutch, English, maths, art history and drawing as well as business planning and running.
Term begins in September and students work through to June, with breaks at Christmas and Easter and Bank Holidays. Four days a week are spent in college and compulsory work experience on Fridays and at least one day of the weekend. The Dutch education system places huge emphasis on vocational training and secondary age students have a choice of career paths whether they’re headed to technical colleges or University for professional courses. As ROC is a vocational college, students undertake 960 hours of work experience hours throughout the course which is split over several set areas – theatre, photography, film, opera, ballet, events – and they have to do this to experience all areas of the industry.
“It often happens that a student will beg to stay on the placement that they’re currently doing because they think they won’t like the next area, but it’s compulsory so we make them go, and then they find out that they love this new area and it’s going to be their future,” advises Petra.
Jolanda agrees, “Anything that is live performance is difficult for students to understand until they get backstage and see how everything works behind the scenes. We have a lot of productions asking for our students to do work experience at the moment which is great and means we have no problems fulfilling the 960 hours – at the moment every musical and theatre production in Amsterdam, as well as out into the country, has our students. Last Monday we had a premiere for a new production about the life of a famous Dutch singer, Liesbeth List who made her name singing Jacques Brel’s chansons in Dutch. It’s a musical and there are three of our students on the show. There’s a new film in production which has nine of our second year students on it now. We handpick the students to fit the opportunities that come in and its great when these chances lead to jobs for graduates – we have two former students who are working at Red Bot in film and TV who went straight on to set as interns after they graduated and they are now paid make-up artists working on the fourth movie with that crew, so we’re booming now.”
Could you expand your course and offer double the places? “No,” comment Jolanda, “because there are government rules about how many students we can take on the course, and also because they need to find work after they graduate, and that’s difficult in this arena and the government does not want them to be unemployed at the end of the course so we are limited by these rules.”
For the students, it all works out in the end. Most find work in the industry or continue their studies in art or other creative areas. Some finish the course and then decide that they want to work on retail counters, which is the initial placement that they get in their first year and gives them experience of speaking to customers and of knowing products in detail. ROC partner with MAC, NYX, Bobbi Brown, Smashbox and Benefit, and students get great first-hand experience as well as brand training too. When you’re not afraid to sell a product, you can use the same technique to sell yourself as a freelancer.
“We keep in touch with our former students. Because we have a smaller cohort than many other industries, we know our students very well and we’re in connection on Facebook and WhatsApp,” Petra acknowledges. “As our teachers are all working, our new students go with them for internships. The group gets to know each other very well.”
Students come from all over Holland and, as well as medical support, there is a system in place to help those with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia or dyscalculia, a social worker and financial advice. At Open Days, they’re always asked where they live and how they plan to travel to school, whether moving to Amsterdam or staying with family and friends. Those who live outside Amsterdam and choose to travel from home every day in the First Year generally find an apartment share by the time they’re in Year 2. Travel is an essential part of a makeup artist’s life, so learning from the beginning is a good skill. A lot of internships are based in the middle of Holland, though there are others which are further afield and the government provides a card for weekday travel, which is a big help.
Sometimes students apply from outside of Holland, but are required to take a Dutch exam that is quite hard. There’s currently a Swedish student who learned Dutch over the summer, and another from Iran who has been in the country for two years and really practiced her language skills. There’s also their academic background – ROC is a Level 4 provider which is the highest level of vocational training – and there needs to be a comparable level of entry education to enter the course. With the Iranian student, approval was granted from the Ministry of Education.
ROC officially takes students from age 16, yet in reality they often come from the year they turn 18. It’s an industry which needs maturity: they need to be able to deal with adults in a professional manner, work a lot on their own, travel alone late and not get excited because there is a well-known person in the room. There are 16-year-old students who are very mature, but one 16-year-old is not the same as another, and this is why they handpick the entrants. “We look at their portfolios and see their passion – and that way you are in,” admits Jolanda. If applicants are not successful at their first attempt, this is not a bar and they’re often advised to go to hairdressing school for a year or two first, and then reapply.
Business skills are a key part of the training. Teenagers rarely remember to check their emails so the connection between the internship and the student is deliberately all on email, all college paperwork goes to them on email, yet it’s not their natural way of communicating. While they instinctively check their phones for social messages, it’s school that teaches them that there is a different way that’s needed at work. Petra points out, “They leave with all the skills and a business plan. They know how to invoice, deal with the bank, pay taxes and get a business card. When they’re finished, they go from us. As we’re a government school, we don’t run an agency, but students make good connections with their favourite teachers and will keep in touch with them and ask their advice.” And when you note that they have students at all the big productions in the Netherlands; Lion King, Liesbeth, My Fair Lady, Sweeny Todd, West Side Story, The Bridges of Madison County, Redbad, ROC thoroughly deserves its reputation.