Life & Style

Tennessee woman heads to Abu Dhabi cosmetology competition

Although Kylie Burkey graduated from Sullivan Central High School in 2014, she’s been there recently practicing for competition like she did for SkillsUSA in high school. Like always, cosmetology instructor Avery Putney is nearby.

However, instead of getting ready for regional, state or national SkillsUSA competitions, Burkey is practicing for an international hairdressing contest. She will represent the United States in WorldSkills, a 65-year-old international competition that will be held in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. She left Tri-Cities Airport last Tuesday en route to Charlotte and then Washington, D.C., where she will board a trans-Atlantic flight of Etihad Airways to go to the Middle East and be one of 33 hairdressing competitors from around the globe.

Burkey is the first Tennessean ever to compete in cosmetology at WorldSkills.

All told, more than 1,300 competitors in various categories from 77 countries or regions will be at the event, and Burkey is among 11 representing the United States. About 100,000 student and public spectators will attend the competition at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

In the WorldSkills Hairdressing contest, working under time constraints, competitors must show they can cut, color and style hair to a desired effect and demonstrate the ability to analyze different hair types and conditions. Each competitor is tested on chemical reformation and special hair treatments. Other occupational areas in which the United States plans to compete include Automobile Technology; Bakery; Bricklaying; Mechatronics (two-person team); Plumbing and Heating; Print Media Technology; Refrigeration and Air Conditioning; Web Design and Development; and Welding.

WorldSkills is held every two years. Member countries include Japan, England, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Australia, Thailand, Argentina and many others.

Instead of being Putney’s pupil, Burkey is now in a business relationship with Putney, who with Sheila Barnett co-owns Cutter’s Alley in Colonial Heights. Burkey has been working at the business for 2½ years and has been a licensed cosmetologist for 3½. Burkey’s ultimate career goal is to become a certified cosmetology instructor and to teach like Putney.

“She’s been my trainer,” Burkey said of Putney, adding that her teacher’s role was akin to an Olympic athlete’s coach.

Putney said, “I was Kylie’s cosmetology teacher for four years in high school, and now she works with me in my salon. She is extremely hardworking and puts a lot of pressure on herself to be the best she can be. She is very motivated.”

At SkillsUSA nationals, Burkey did an updo, a prom- or wedding-type formal style that was colored at Central and put together at the national competition in Kentucky. She doesn’t yet know what she will do at WorldSkills, but 30 percent of the competition tests will be drawn from a hat, so to speak. The format changed this year.

“My competition, as far as I know, is the only one for which the contests haven’t been released,” Burkey said.

Putney said, “It’s like a client coming in and saying, ‘I want this.’ ”

Another difference in international competition, Putney said, is that participants are graded strictly on their hair performance, not on an interview and written test like SkillsUSA nationals. Also, Putney explained, there is no limit or minimum number of winners in the gold, silver and bronze categories. Students are graded on a scale, and all or none in theory could earn gold.

Unlike the high school competitions, where Burkey won two Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology or TCAT scholarships, the reward of WorldSkills is the travel from SkillsUSA via corporate sponsors, free supplies and training from corporate sponsors Pivot Point and Goldwell USA, domestic and international trips and competing internationally. She went to China in June, at China’s invitation, to view that country’s national hairdressing competition and recently traveled to Washington, DC, to visit the United Arab Emirates Embassy. (China hopes to host the event in 2021.) In high school, Burkey went to Chattanooga and Kansas City for competitions. After high school, she traveled to Chicago, Louisville, Kentucky, and Michigan.

“I kind of got to do a trial practice run” in China, Burkey said.

English is the official language of the competition, and 12 translators will be on hand for those who do not speak it, Burkey said.

Burkey was invited to the international competition after winning gold in state competitions in 2013 and 2014, took gold in national competition in 2013 and silver in 2014.

Although friends and family are concerned for her well-being, Burkey said she might be safer in the UAW than in parts of the United States and other countries.

“I would have been a lot more nervous going to Brazil,” Burkey said of an earlier international competition venue.

In China, she met a competitor in another field from Iran who was very friendly and wanted to have his photo taken with her. She said that’s a big deal to many foreigners, especially in the Middle East, because she is American and blonde.

“Honestly, it’s probably more dangerous for me being right here,” Burkey said. “People are a lot nicer than you think.”

Putney also is attending the competition. The event got underway Sunday, after an opening ceremony Saturday, and will continue until closing ceremonies the Thursday, when scores will be announced.

“Being chosen to represent the United States in the WorldSkills Competition means the absolute world to me. It means that everything I have worked so hard for is being validated,” Burkey said. “I feel honored to have been chosen for this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I hope to meet people from all over the world, learn from them things that will enhance my career, and most of all, I hope to make the United States proud.”

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