Instructor has become a champion of apprenticeship programs

Albe Heinen

Gateway Technical College

Instructor

Barber/Cosmetology Apprenticeship

Albe Heinen graduated from Gateway Technical College with her Barber/Cosmetology license in 1993. Since that time, she has carved out a successful career for herself and has helped countless others do the same.

She is a true champion for apprenticeships, and never has that been more apparent than at her most recent post as instructor for the Barber/Cosmetologist Apprenticeship at her alma mater. When asked, Heinen touts the benefits of apprenticeships quickly and proudly, as if they’ve become her slogan. Without pause, she says, “The biggest benefits: the cost, the time, and the career is now.”

Heinen’s first experience with apprenticeships was after graduation from Gateway when she became salon manager at Studio 75 in Kenosha. It was there that she helped start an apprenticeship program with her colleague, and former instructor at Gateway, Mary Grunseth. She was immediately impressed. “I really loved the concept of apprenticeship and how my students in the salon made a career right away,” says Heinen.

Instructor Albe Heinen in the Barber/Cosmetology labFor the next 10 years, she and Grunseth kept the program running smoothly, all the while turning out talented apprentices. In 2003, the two ventured out on their own and opened up Essence Hair and Spa, where they started another apprenticeship program. Successful results followed.

When Grunseth decided to retire in 2010, rather than run the salon on her own, Heinen decided to make education her sole focus. For years she had been doing guest speaking at Gateway on the business aspects of the barber/cosmetology industry, but something felt right about making a full-time go of it. “I decided to go back because I’ve been part of Gateway my whole life,” explains Heinen.

She now teaches cosmetologists the theory process of education, colors, business, haircutting as well as how to build a career. She also teaches a management course, which includes budgeting, financing, legal matters, insurance, down to inventory control and dealing with employees. “Being an instructor, my students empower me,” she says. “We learn from each other, and when we share, it’s bigger knowledge. I don’t think you can ever learn enough.”

She’s seen first-hand the growth of the apprenticeship program at Gateway. When she took over the department in 2013, her classroom was just four to eight students, depending on the class. Compare that to the 15 to 20 students she gets now. “I’m up to the maximum,” she says. “The growth is phenomenal.”

As an apprenticeship instructor, Heinen teaches a course called “Transition to Trainer,” a requirement for all apprentices, regardless of trade. “I don’t just meet cosmetologists and barbers,” she says. “I’m meeting plumbers and electricians. I get to see all the aspects of apprenticeship, and it just makes me proud.”

Because of the unique benefits apprenticeships provide, “I think we’re going to continue to see an upward trend because of the financial aspect of it,” she says. “If you can’t afford a full-time program, you can do an apprenticeship for under $3,000 — and you’re getting the same education.”

Beyond the financial benefit, “Some people cannot sit in a classroom for four years. Some people are just very hands-on,” she adds. “So having the opportunity to do an apprenticeship is amazing.”

But, she adds, none of it would be possible without the help from area sponsors. “If it wasn't for our community and our companies, we would not even have a apprenticeship program," she explains. "The connection that Gateway makes with their sponsors and the students is one of the most amazing things to keep the program running.”

Heinen will continue to spread the word and see to it that as many students find their way into apprenticeships as possible. “It’s just getting the word out there,” she says. “That’s the hardest.”