OK, so we’re nearly there. The treacle quagmire of funding has (nearly) been traversed, the boggy lack of consensus over an industry stan-dard qualification has (virtually) been overcome, and the muddied waters of how and where to find adequate training have (almost) been cleared. The formation of a national academy for bakery skills is now within reach.

The path forward was always there, though the search often felt like trudging through slowly setting concrete of collective resignation. Thankfully, a Steering Group, featuring a broad industry cross-section, has identified the way forward.

It has taken the big decisions and appointed a ’network champion’ (subject to funding), with a curriculum shaping up nicely as we speak. Things have advanced so much, that an April 2009 pilot launch date has been scheduled.

Things have moved forward quickly. The idea of a bakery arm of the national skills academy was mooted at the tail-end of 2007, and given real impetus at the One Voice meeting of industry bigwigs, held at the Baking Industry Exhibition in the Birmingham NEC in April. This summer, the Steering Group came together, with a six-month brief to reach a consensus over the many sticking points over hows, whos and whens. Four months down the line, and we’re already talking about a September 2009 national roll-out.

The temptation is to grab the Steering Group and give them a hearty slap on the back for getting this far. Yet any triumphalism should be tempered. Funding needs to be met and that’s where employers come in; industry lea-ders are being urged to put their money where their mouths are to get the pilot off the ground.

"As a Steering Group, we feel we have made huge strides over the last six months in terms of bringing the industry together and finding a common training package," says Steering Group chair Dave Brooks, until recently chief executive of Finsbury Food Group. "There is a big opportunity for the whole industry to get behind the initiative, with a relatively small investment that can genuinely make a huge difference to its future."

The initial funding of £100,000 is for the programme’s development; once that is up and running, the programme would be self-funding in the medium-term through employer contributions, training subsidies and other areas. "For a long time, people have been saying that something has to be done about training - now something is being done and we need the industry’s support to deliver," says Brooks. This means relatively small contributions - thousands of pounds rather than tens of thousands - sourced from employers and associations.

If the total is raised, Campden BRI will project-manage and co-ordinate the pilot, in its role of network champion. Leeds Thomas Danby, as ’lead college’, will be instrumental in setting the tone, curriculum and impetus of the programme, which would then roll out through a national college base and in-work training.

It is believed that Campden’s reputation for delivering high-class training within the food and drink industry, and its strong project management record, will be enough to convince employers to get onboard. "It’s a great privilege to be NSA champion for bakery," says Terry Sharp, head of baking and cereal processing at Campden BRI. "We understand the huge amount of responsibility that comes with the position, but we are well-equipped for the challenge, with a proven track record in developing training solutions."

As NSA champion, Campden would work in conjunction with the colleges. Its first job would be to work alongside Leeds Thomas Danby to establish a foundation bakery skills programme, to be delivered through the NSA bakery network. This would be designed specifically for emp- loyees who have not undertaken any formal training.

"The Steering Group has identified the need to develop more effective training at basic level, to provide workers with firm foundations on which to build their skills," explains Campden bakery training manager Paul Catterall. "We can develop an outstanding training programme that efficiently delivers the skills employers want their wor-kers to have."

The question now is whether the supermarkets and larger employers with their own training schemes will embrace the programme. "Employers with their own training programmes will almost certainly want to continue with those," admits Brooks. "Through the bakery academy, we have to prove we’ve got something equally as successful, so they see the value of merging their qualifications into it." Morrisons, for example, could eventually become an accredited college with a training programme matched against the NSA programme, he envisages.

So most of the outstanding issues have been addressed and the industry is on the cusp of having its own national academy for bakery skills, which would finally put the opportunity to solve the training crisis in the hands of employers.


=== What is the National Skills Academy? ===

Put simply, the aim of the academy for bakery is that every bakery business, large or small, should have access to quality bakery training, wherever they are in the country. This is in tandem with developing a universally valued qualification that teaches a fundamental understanding of baking.

The NSA for Food and Drink Manufacturing operates through training provider networks, which specialise in a particular industry sector, such as bakery, fish or meat, or in an operational discipline, such as lean manufacturing. It is not a funding body, but acts as facilitator for improving skills and identifying resources. It co-ordinates a network of training providers, led by a sector champion.


=== The next steps ===

* The new curriculum will be split into three levels. Over the next two weeks an outline of the curriculum for Levels 1 and 2 will be developed

* While these are likely to be based upon current VRQ/NVQ structures, there will be a wholesale shift of emphasis, so that everyone completing the foundation level will be grounded in basic baking skills, with more modules covered - such as how to make bread, cake and confectionery - as well as a full understanding of how ingredients function.

* A draft curriculum will be presented to the next Steering Group meeting on 17 November for approval. The Steering Group will meet with the colleges before Christmas to offer a full update on qualifications and delivery plans, and invite those colleges to become part of the network of providers.

* Industry will be approached to secure start-up funding contributions. If successful, the Steering Group’s structure and format would then be reviewed, having completed its original six-month brief, and would likely be extended into 2009.