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Short back & free

Jai provides haircuts for homeless

"It’s the very least I should be doing" — that’s what 24-year-old Jai Tonges said when asked why he gives up his mornings to provide free haircuts to the disadvantaged and homeless.

Jai, who is studying a Certificate III in Barbering (SHB30516) at TAFE Queensland’s Southport campus gets up early to go to the park and cut the hair of people doing it tough as he believes it’s the least he can and should be doing to help.

“There’s literally no reason I shouldn’t be helping if I can. Helping the homeless and disadvantaged has been something I’ve been passionate about my whole life and I’m truly privileged to now have the skills to help them in some way,” said Jai.

“I get to meet all of these amazing people and hear their stories while I cut their hair. It’s something I’ll continue to do because it’s a lot more than just a haircut to them, it’s transforming.”

However, barbering wasn’t always part of Jai’s life, he spent three years at university studying education and theatre where he felt there was no direction or connection for him.

“University wasn’t for me as I felt like I was headed down the wrong path and my heart just wasn’t in it. Rather than force myself to finish, I decided to leave and rethink my career,” he said.

It was a life changing epiphany that changed everything for Jai. While scrolling YouTube a video popped up of someone getting a beard trim from a barber and from that moment on he was captivated.

“That 45-minute video was all it took, I was completely hooked. That was the day I decided to flip everything around and chase a barbering career. I’d worked a lot of jobs and none had ever gripped me the same way; nothing was going to stop me from becoming a barber,” he said.

Jai was taken on as a mature-age apprentice by Cornerstone Barbers in Springfield under the State Governments Free Apprenticeships for under 25’s funding.

‘I’m really grateful to my employer, he took a chance on me as a mature-age apprentice and I’ll never forget it. I hope I can pay it forward someday,” said Jai.

Upon completing his four-year apprenticeship, Jai has many pathways he wants to pursue which include taking his skills and techniques around Europe as well as being an advocate for the barbering industry.

“I want to work on implementing more barbering programs into high schools to promote the possibility of a career in barbering,” he said.

“I’d also like to work in rehabilitation programs in prisons and hospitals.”

Jai took out ‘Outstanding Apprentice of the Year’ at the recent 2021 TAFE Queensland Gold Coast Apprentice Awards night held at Southport Sharks where he was honoured for his patience, attention to detail, and initiative to help his peers.

To others thinking about studying at TAFE Queensland, Jai said to find a way to just do it.

“Whether it’s an apprenticeship or enrolling into a class and footing the bill, find a way to start your dream career at TAFE Queensland.”

“Chase that dream, forget the naysayers, focus on yourself, and trust the process.”

“My TAFE teacher has been one of my biggest supporters and I definitely wouldn’t be in the position I am without her — I’m very grateful to have had Tracey as my teacher.”