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We didn’t do well at school but now we are jumping for joy at the careers we’ve made


With NI teenagers getting their GCSE results today, three successful people who are at the top of their game despite leaving school early or with very few qualifications talk to Kerry McKittrick.

'Hairdressing was the job I wanted, it's about following your passion'

Suzan Manning (44) is owner of the Zuni Hair Salon in Belfast and winner of the L'Oreal colour trophy. She lives in Belfast with her partner, Peter. She says:

I went to Methodist College and it's very much a school where it is assumed that you'll go on to do A-levels and then to university.

But I had started a part-time job in a hairdressing salon to earn a bit of money and discovered I really enjoyed it. During my GCSEs I realised that I didn't want to stay at school, I wanted to start my career. I wasn't closing the door on education as I felt that I might go back and do A-levels or a degree at some stage. I figured if I did, I would have a skill to help me earn money as I did.

I then did my NVQs in hairdressing, which I completed while I worked.

You need to be smart to be a hairdresser, particularly if you run your own business with accounts, payroll and human resources to worry about. There is a lot more to it than meets the eye, but you don't need a formal education to do it all.

High fliers: Students at Ashfield Girls’ High School celebrate their GCSE results last year

My advice to those getting GCSE results today is this; if there's something that you feel passionate about, then you should go down that route.

I don't regret the career path I've chosen at all. I took a break when I was 20 and did some travelling and then some other jobs. I worked in offices and other environments, but eventually I realised that hairdressing was the job that I wanted to be doing.

To be a hairdresser, you should get a place in a good salon who will train you as you go along - that's exactly what we try to do at Zuni. We send our apprentices to college so they do have a formal qualification, but what they do day-to-day is the important thing."

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