Cheryl Ou has always loved doing her own nails. This was what prompted her to sign up for a diploma in professional nail technology back in 2005. And that was when she realised that picking up the skill didn’t come cheap: She had to fork out close to $7,000 for the four-month course. “Not many people who want to work as manicurists can afford to spend that kind of money,” she says.
That’s why Cheryl, who is also certified to train others in nail technology, now trains low-income single mothers keen on joining the beauty industry – without charge. The aim: to help them move from a position of vulnerability to self-sufficiency. Since she opened The Nail Social salon in 2015, she’s trained about 30 women; 11 of them are currently on her payroll. “In this industry, the turnover rate is very high. It’s difficult to get good staff. On the flip side, there are these women looking for jobs, and all they’re lacking is opportunity and training,” says Cheryl.
Together with another partner who has since moved overseas, she reached out to social workers and held recruitment drives in collaboration with charity Beyond Social Services to train single mothers to work at the salon. One of the salon’s first hires was Nafesah Daud. A 35-year-old single mother of six, Nafesah says she struggled to find work because companies she applied to did not want to hire someone with heavy family commitments. Instead of turning her away, Cheryl made arrangements that allowed Nafesah’s younger children to be at the salon when no one was home to watch them. It was the first stable job Nafesah had held since 2009. She steadily climbed the ranks, and today, is the salon manager.
Cheryl has expanded The Nail Social, and plans to open a new branch at Chinatown, where she will be able to train six to eight more people. But beyond providing nail services, this branch will also have a cafe, retail space and florist, giving Cheryl an opportunity to support other causes she champions, like eco-friendly products and jewellery sold by social enterprises. She also plans to hire ex-offenders. “We’ll continue working with social workers to find more people who need jobs, and we hope to reach out to men as well,” she says. Her husband recently left his job as a manager with Singapore Airlines to help her build the social enterprise. “It’s something that we both feel very strongly about,” she says.
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