Andy Wiltz plays with dogs at Woof’s Play & Stay.

KC area employers embrace training program and skills of graduates ready to start their career.

By Andrea Byrne

If anyone knows how challenging it can be to hire a good dog groomer, it’s owners and managers of grooming salons. On any given day in the KC metro, 28 or more job listings result from a quick online search. This high demand is a big reason why EPEC founder Natasha Kirsch chose to focus on dog grooming as skills training to help lift single mothers and their families out of poverty.

A win-win for employers and graduates

Boarding, pet care, and veterinary clinics in the Kansas City metro area have caught on to the high caliber of dog groomers who go through The Grooming Project’s six-month skills training program. Upon completion, graduates have earned their state certified credentials and are ready to enter the workforce, often with employers waiting to hire them.

Rockhill Pet Clinic embraces the program. They’ve hired two graduates of The Grooming Project, including Amy Hall, who worked as their full-time groomer until being recruited back to the school to share her skills and inspiring story as a Grooming Instructor’s Assistant. Tessa Edwards, Rockhill Pet Clinic’s Practice Manager, shared how their second program grad Jen is flourishing as their current full-time groomer. “Jen is super reliable. She is good natured and does a great job accommodating client requests,” she said. “Since we’re part of a vet clinic, we sometimes get dogs that other groomers kick out due to behavioral issues. We’re able to work with Jen on how to handle the behavior, which adds to her skills but also results in a better experience for the dog and the owner.”

Andy Wiltz owns three Woof’s Play & Stay facilities in KC, along with locations in Lawrence and Topeka. He’s hired four graduates of The Grooming Project. “I’ve probably made offers to 10, but the location or schedule isn’t always a good fit,” Andy shared. He understands that for a single mother, managing a job on top of being able to care for her children and making sure they have a place to live can feel overwhelming.

Bridging the gap from “you’ve graduated” to “you’re hired”

The core competency of The Grooming Project is teaching the technical skills required for a career as a dog groomer. But students get so much more. Parenting, financial literacy, problem-solving skills development, and where to find help are some of the life skills baked into the program, all of which are crucial for helping them be good employees.

A recent addition to the skills development is a mock interview program. The brainchild of Employment Specialist Michelle Horst and program champion Andy Wiltz, the interviews take place 4-6 weeks before graduation. “The students have progressed from bathing and nail trims, to scissoring skills and interacting with dog owners at appointment drop-off and pick-up,” according to Andy. “They have the skills to do the job, but they are so afraid of the interview process.”

Andy volunteers his time to conduct the mock interviews with students. “I interview them just like I do when filling a position at Woof’s. They start out nervous, but after a while, you see them get more comfortable. Afterward, we discuss what they did well and what they think they can do better. We talk about how they should be professional, look the person in the eye and shake hands. A key is to get them to think of the interview as a conversation rather than an inquisition. They should be asking questions of the employer to make sure the job is a good fit.

Some of the questions graduates may need to ask include:

Where is the job located? (This is critical for graduates who don’t have reliable transportation.)

What is the schedule? (Is it full-time or part-time? Is start time flexible?)

What are the expected responsibilities of a groomer at your facility? (Some are one-person shops where the groomer does everything from check-in and bathing to collecting payment; others have bathers or staff that checks dogs in and out.)

How does pay work? (Knowing if it’s commission-based, hourly or a combination is important for weighing an offer.)


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