Passions are clearly running high over the future of training in the baking industry, as bakery tutor Chris North so eloquently discourses in this week’s Friday Essay (pg 13).

The relationship between the sector skills council Improve, employers and colleges has not been one without tensions over how to take the issue forward, while the path ahead has so far been beset by good intentions, but little action.

An October conference on bakery training is being lined up by the Student Alliance (formerly the NFBSS/IBA Alliance) to address this, with the aim of getting the key industry decision-makers - from employers to student bodies - in one room to hammer out the future of bakery training. With plans still at an early stage, we will report details as and when they become available.

In the meantime, big changes are afoot, with NVQ and SVQ qualifications set for an overhaul. Improve will unveil a series of new qualifications "designed by employers to deliver to employers’ needs, and to provide a pathway to enable individuals to get the skills they require", says Paula Widdowson, communications director for Improve.

common modules

For the first time there will be specific pathways for learning for every type of baker at NVQ Level 2, with common modules applicable to all pathways. "At the moment, there are four or five qualifications in bakery," she says. "Some might cover process, some might cover craft. Now, for the first time ever, there will be, for instance, a qualification specifically for a craft baker, an in-store baker or a highly automated plant baker. There will be common areas covered, such as cleaning, security, storage, distribution and retail."

A further five pathways will be available at Level 3, along functional lines such as management, improvement, technical skills and supply chain management.

Qualifications will be obtainable either through on-the-job training, through colleges or through private training provision. "Because there are so many modules involved, they can be done in a variety of ways - some can be done online or through distance learning," says Widdowson.

"This hasn’t been done by Improve, sat on its own in an ivory tower. This has all been done with the help of hundreds of employers, responding to our consultation platforms and one-to-one meetings," she says. So what have employers requested? "They’ve been asking to make the qualifications more relevant to their needs, to beef up the management side, to make the underpinning knowledge about how dough works at a relevant depth for the particular role, rather than blanket-cover everybody to the same level of knowledge. Employers want to pick and choose the relevant knowledge that is required."

Seven types of qualification will come into effect in September. Improve will be giving full details of them at an event on 6 July in Leeds, aimed at employers and employees, where there will also be an opportunity to sign up to modular courses.

Meanwhile, the National Bakery School at London South Bank University has sought to improve the level of bakery training available by introducing a two-year Foundation Degree in Baking Technology Management. Upon completion, students can top up their qualification with either a BSc (Hons) Food Design and Technology or a BA (Hons) in Business Management. Head of the school Dr John Marchant says the course updates and replaces existing qualifications, which were either too theoretical in nature or too basic in content.

This foundation degree will cater particularly for the needs of young people entering the industry and also for those already working in the baking industry, who may benefit from further professional development. Although there has been no formal publicity, the course has already received 10 applications.

practical course

"Improve suggested we set up a foundation degree and we began this process in consultation with industry. It has taken us two years to achieve this goal but we can now recruit for a September 2007 start," says Marchant. "It gives students both a management and science outlook, but overall, it’s a very practical course."

He urged other colleges to follow suit: "We’re very lucky that we’re part of London South Bank University, which made it much easier to set up, but I would suggest that other colleges could affiliate with universities and do the same. All students would then have access to a foundation degree across the country, which would provide the baking industry with a firm footing for the future and bring us into line with other industries." n

l The Improve event, Pick Your Mix, will be held at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds on 6 July. For more information, email:


=== Future employment trends ===

l skills required in the sector are increasing as time progresses

l management positions will increase greatly

l the number of elementary jobs will continue to fall

l food scientists, NPD, traceability and legislation demands are critical areas for the industry

l flexibility has to be increased to attract more females, ethnic minorities and older workers

Industry needs

What food and drink sector skills council, Improve says the industry wants:

l relevant and accessible productivity training

l improved in-house and on-the-job training

l improved clarity of communication on training and funding across the UK

l regional group training for small to medium enterprises

l a conversion programme for food scientists


=== New training course ===

Starting in September, the Foundation Degree at the National Bakery School hopes to give:

l A grounding in business knowledge to support the start-up and operation of a small business or the enterprise initiative to work with an international food company

l A practical and conceptual awareness of the wider environmental constraints acting on the baking industry

l A range of practical strategies for creating, developing and sustaining the baking business or enterprise initiatives

l A vocationally-based capability to enhance and/or develop novel ideas into a successful baking business or bakery-related enterprise

Any bakers who are willing to offer work placements are asked to contact Dr John Marchant at Placements will start in June 2008 and run for 15 weeks