Close shave: Cops get ticket out of poverty

A policeman gives his colleague a cropped haircut. The trainees, apart from learning how to handle hair clippers and snip fashionable hairdos, learn the essential groundwork of running a barber shop. (Photos by Penchan Charoensuthipan)

When Bunlue Tansuk retires from the police force, he may well swap his firearm for a pair of clippers after signing up for a vocational course to bolster his income in his greying years.

The senior sergeant major with Thong Lor police station in Bangkok joined a men’s haircut training course arranged by the Department of Skill Development at the Labour Ministry in Din Daeng district.

Three classes were organised, each for 20 officers, to teach them how to run a barber shop.

Retired police personnel and other civil servants typically receive a pension, either in a lump sum or on a monthly basis. But runaway inflation has shaken up the pension scheme, which for most retirees forms the backbone of their financial security, according to labour experts.

Many government officials are still fit to work after they retire but they must acquire new skills before they leave the workforce in order to do so.

This is where the haircut training programme comes in. It is designed for police officers approaching retirement age, however, younger officers are also admitted, including Pol Snr Sgt Maj Bunlue, who is 47.

The programme is only available in Bangkok; however, it will soon be offered in other locations, starting with Nakhon Phanom and Phetchabun, he said.

Director-general Suthi Sukosol said the department would provide police officers the training they need to financially survive their golden years.

Police officers from various stations in Bangkok take a group photo after joining a haircut training course arranged by the Department of Skills Development in Din Daeng district.

Pol Snr Sgt Maj Bunlue said changing trades 13 years down the line was not a bad idea. Other retired policemen have said they feel bored and useless staying at home all day, he added.

“Amid the surging cost of living, a second income for many retirees is now becoming the rule, not the exception,” he said.

He noticed barbers were in high demand with queues spilling out of many shops.

There is no constraint in terms of age or weight when cutting hair and “barbers only need to have a service mind”, he said, adding the project showed him he had an entrepreneurial side.

Pol Snr Sgt Maj Bunlue figured he might have to invest in his own barber shop at the front of his house. That way, he could work near his family and open a small convenience stall in one corner of the shop.

He said he joined the programme quickly as there were only three spots reserved for officers from his station.

“I want to have new skills so I can be self-employed when I have lots of free time on my hands,” he said.

Pol Lt Pichet Mee-asa, of Bukkhalo police station, is also training to be a barber. He works as a community relations officer. The demands of his job include offering people free services, including haircuts.

He already knew how to do basic haircuts but used the course to improve his skillset, he said.

Cutting people’s hair is also an easy way to bond with the community, Pol Lt Pichet added.

He said he treats some of his colleagues to free cuts, saving them upwards of 300 baht a month.

Course trainer Son Wibulkit, 66, is employed by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA). At first he felt apprehensive about the assignment, thinking the police wouldn’t be interested, but later said it was fun teaching them how to use scissors to create attractive hairdos.

“It was like teaching my brothers or kids. Many of them are very talented. After the training, they will all be ready to work as barbers,” said Mr Son.

He described the occupation as an exhausting one but said the training course had rekindled his passion and given him a new sense of fulfilment.

lA policeman tries his hand at giving a haircut. PENCHAN CHAROENSUTHIPAN

The trainees had to familiarise themselves with the various hair designs and trends while learning how to shave beards and massage customers’ faces.

A police officer who gave the nickname “Boy” said he learned how to cut hair at the Royal Police Cadet Academy. He later tried to “perfect” his skills by watching demonstration channels on YouTube.

He said the latest training course had made him more confident in his ability to supplement his income in the future and send money to his parents in the countryside.

“Short haircuts conform to police rules. It’s a matter of discipline,” the officer said.

Pol Snr Sgt Maj Namchai Banphakot, attached to Don Muang police station, said he was awarded a special certificate after completing the course, but still does not consider himself a professional barber.

Labour Minister Adul Sangsingkeo said the Royal Thai Police’s new rule that male personnel must keep their hair very short has diminished demand for hair stylists.

Their hair must be 3cm or shorter at all times with the sides and back clippered, said Pol Gen Adul, who used to serve as national police chief.

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