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The 21 st century hair designer is a master of their trade in more ways than one - they are equally at ease in dealing with their customers and handling business issues as they are in wielding the scissors.

Such new-breed workers are what Limkokwing University College of Creative Technology has in mind when exploring how best to upgrade skills and standards in the exciting field of hair design.

Another product of the creative minds of the university college, the International Lifestyle Design Academy is a collaboration with internationally renowned hair care brand Wella that re-invents the way the young are educated in the field.

This first-of-its-kind effort has a nation-building goal: producing a new generation of hair designers and stylists who will enable Malaysia to become a regional centre of excellence for hair design and salon entrepreneurship.

And why not? Limkokwing after all, has a long track record of excellence in education and training, while Wella is a highly respected leader in hair care that invests in intensive R&D to create products for professionals.

Asia's first professional diploma

The Professional Diploma in Hair Design, probably Asia's first, is an extensive two-year course covering relevant areas such as marketing for salons, hair designing for fashion shows, television or theatre, e-commerce, studio photography, communication skills, public relations and business management.

The training, designed to groom leading designers for the industry, is unique in that graduates are prepared to set up business immediately upon entering the workforce. With their creativity and versatility, they could easily take on various roles: among them, lead stylist, designer, manager and innovator.

Training within university environment

The programme is moderated by Limkokwing and part of the studies is conducted within the university as it intergrates into the university's Department of Fashion and Retail Design Management.

Students also gain from Wella's experience in R&D and graduates have the option of upgrading their qualification at any of Wella's training schools in Europe, Hongkong, Korea and Taiwan.

Another Limkokwing-Wella collaboration on campus comes in the form of Making Headlines, a hair design salon that is set to revive the tired image of the modern hairstylist.

Like the academy, Making Headlines is in line with the Limkokwing philosophy of promoting creativity and innovation. It is one of many business units under Malaysia Design Innovation Centre, the professional arm of the university college. Through MDI, strong exposure to industry on campus is ensured.

This industry within university concept means the business centres operate as incubators where students learn to create and manage products and services. They get to interface with industry professionals on campus as they study.

The concept is also realised through projects, events and activities. A shining example is the currently running Best of Malaysia Showcase that captures some of the country's leading brands, including some recipients of the National Creativity & Innovation Award, another event organised by MDI to promote branding and innovation.

International atmosphere

A strength of Limkokwing that works to the advantage of the student is surely the multicultural, multinational environment brought on by the presence of some 4,000 students from 60 countries.

Students are exposed to the different cultures and experiences in an informal learning environment - that is MDI, and during the three or four years they are on campus, gain inspiration and enlightenment in many different ways, not least in the way the university college has been designed.

Under one roof is a variety of attractions. Apart from the hair design collaborations with Wella, there are trendy cafes, design galleries, a hip fitness centre and a cybercafe. There is also Centrefold, another one-of-its-kind venture started by the university college that functions as a fashion retail store where students are exposed to a real work environment.

The entire campus, in fact, is an exercise in branding and innovation. Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing, president of both the university college and MDI, would tell you that, "Nothing is left to chance here. Everything is carefully designed, as reflected by the business units run by the university college".

Tan Sri Lim often points out the need to focus on personality development. It is important to be inspired as technology is meaningless when there is no passion and creativity applied to it, is how he puts it.

"There can be no success without passion. Our young must be inspired to transcend boundaries, overcome obstacles and want to make a difference," Tan Sri Lim says, adding that Limkokwing students are generally successful because they have been trained to break the norm.

A variety of career pathways

The Professional Diploma in Hair Design consists of two semesters each year. Students can move directly into the industry after the first year with a Certificate in Hair Design that enables them to be competent professionals, having learnt the essential elements of cutting, styling, colouring and salon management. They also gain understanding of fashion trends, branding and marketing.

The second year enables students to graduate with a Professional Diploma in Hair Design and Business Management. This period is when students advance their skills in such subjects as studio photography, hair salon management, e-commerce and hair design for fashion shows.

The hair design industry offers many opportunities: from designing to management, to PR and marketing. The industry also supports other fields such as fashion photography, television, theatre, and performance production.