The great training debate
Published:  25 July, 2008

OK, so let me confess straight up - I am an accountant and the amount I truly know about baking can be written on a grain of baking powder. The only time I have ever baked was on a 72-foot, 50-tonne yacht in the mid-Atlantic, which was racing for Boston on a 40-degree tilt... and I can assure you that is not good for making bread evenly sliceable!

But here I am, newly elected chairman of the National Skills Academy Bakery Steering Group - just shows the world loves a willing volunteer (aka fool?). Mind you, I will comfortably be able to identify with those studying the courses we end up devising, as I will know as much as them on day one - so maybe I had better enrol soon!

So what is the Steering Group here to do? Well, after much huffing and puffing and declarations of "something must be done" over the ageing skilled workforce in our trade, the industry has decided to see if it can come up with a united voice on what it needs (a formal training programme), how it needs it (delivered by a variety of methods from college attendance to work-based), where it needs it (all over the UK), and when it needs it (now!). In simple terms, it is the creation of a Bakery Academy within the family of the National Skills Academy. OK, so how will we tackle it?

For a start, let us keep things simple - it would be great to develop an international baccalaureate degree, but maybe first we should capture the imagination of those thousands of bakery workers who have learnt nothing more than how to open a bag, add water, and press a button. Hundreds of these people wonder to themselves "Why?" every day and they should be our initial intake. They are just dying to understand the basic functionality of the core ingredients that our industry uses.

Crack that, and the international diplomas can follow, as dozens will want to go on to the "next level" with a number going even further. Like creating Wimbledon Champions, it is a numbers game, with hundreds (if not thousands) needed at the base.

Pulling together

Then, the Group needs to pull the industry together. For some reason, the bread boys, the cake suppliers, the patissiers, and the bakery ingredients suppliers seem to think they all have special needs - pish! Look, it is all flour, butter, egg, yeast, water etc at its core level and we want rounded trainees, so let us drive towards a course that can achieve this aim... and yes, let us all be bold enough to swap our trainees around on placements, even if it means we do risk them not coming back!

Number three? Unite the acronyms! Wow, we have a huge number of trade bodies - if anyone is in them all, their business card is the size of a London bus. Fortunately, they all have the same driving aim - their care for our industry - and many have joined the Steering Group, for which I am very grateful. If we can devise a scheme which suits them all, we will be well on our way.

Then there is the hidden gem of our training colleges, both private and publicly funded... but who genuinely knows what is already out there for our training? It was only reading Chris North's article from 27 June that I learned of the VRQ - and we employ 3,000 people in Finsbury Food Group!

The dwindling number of colleges and lecturers is also a genuine fear. Yet with students banging on their door, I know we can re-energise the training programme. We must spread the word and the message that baking is a true trade and one to be hugely proud to participate in.

So, that is the sort of draft plan for Phase One - basic skills training delivered nationally at an affordable cost, with unanimous industry support. Right now, there is huge wave of enthusiasm for this aim, so let us jump on the surfboard and hang tough on the crest, as we take our crusade crashing across the UK shores.

Sounds fun - even to an accountant - though I want and need your views, opinions and, ultimately, support. My contact details are detailed below.

* Dave Brooks is chief executive of Finsbury Food Group, as well as chairman of the National Skills Academy Bakery Steering Group. Please send him your views at dave@finsburyfoods.co.uk, or via the National Skills Academy on J.Fosh@foodanddrink.nsacademy.co.uk or J.Cooper@foodanddrink.nsacademy.co.uk. The next meeting of the Group is Monday 11 August.




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