Although living in Hong Kong tends to condition people to think great academic results are essential for a successful career, that has never really been the case. There are countless examples of individuals who struggled at school or skipped university, but made it to the top of their chosen profession anyway, earning handsome rewards and accolades along the way.
That is the path Edmond Leung plans to take. As a young hair stylist, he is already being invited to work with the models at major fashion shows and has built up an impressive client list, which includes some of Hong Kong's best-known singers and celebrities.
But before finding success, Mr Leung had to get through a period of uncertainty. Like many secondary school leavers, he was not sure which direction to take after completing Form five, so worked in various odd jobs for a couple of years. However, opportunity knocked when he saw and replied to a recruitment advertisement for juniors to join leading hair salon chain Private i. "Clerical work was not my cup of tea and I knew I should learn a skill to make a decent living," recalls Mr Leung. "I realised that, as a hairdresser, I could help other people look their best, so I plucked up my courage and went for an interview."
A successful hair stylist must be hardworking, creative and know how to read customers' minds
Private i, which is managed by the PS Group, offered him a two-year apprenticeship. The training programme covered five main areas, from learning how to use the basic equipment to perming, cutting, designing new styles and projecting the right image. Juniors must also pass an exam before being assigned to work in one of the group's salons. Within four years, Mr Leung had been promoted to senior stylist and, 18 months ago, was appointed top stylist at the salon in Central's International Finance Centre.
Looking back, Mr Leung believes that joining a large chain helped him get where he is today. "I chose to work for a big company because it would provide more opportunities and exposure," he notes. "For example, fashion show organisers, the media and the managers of movie stars will generally approach the large salons first if they need hair stylists to work for them or to talk about the latest trends."
He added that if you prepared thoroughly for such projects and performed well, there was then a very good chance of being asked again.
The turnover rate for hair stylists is generally quite high. By remaining with the same employer, Mr Leung has therefore made himself something of an exception. "Being loyal gives you time to get used to the corporate culture, and the company has time to observe your talent," he says.
This, he knows, will ultimately help in achieving his ambition of becoming a salon manager, when he has gained a little more experience. Clients expect stylists to communicate well, perhaps in English, and in this respect university graduates interested in joining the profession may have an advantage.
"A successful hair stylist must be hardworking, creative and know how to read customers' minds," Mr Leung points out.
He believes there will be many openings in the field, since more people are now taking better care of their looks, which is increasing the potential client base. The greatest job satisfaction comes from having his creations commended by clients and recognised by the general public.
As living standards in the mainland improve, people are prepared to pay more for hairstyling services. Mr Leung predicts that many of the better salons will therefore be looking to cooperate more closely with professionals in Hong Kong, who can provide the necessary technical knowledge and training.