One small step for bakers (or a few steps upstairs to the conference rooms at Baking Industry Exhibition), one giant leap for baking kind. What last year appeared a challenge at one time as unlikely as putting a man on the moon - getting the baking industry to speak with once voice - last week came a significant stride nearer.
With the establishment of a National Skills Academy for Bakery on the agenda at the One Voice for Training conference, a packed room of industry stakeholders gave a near unanimous show of hands in favour of setting up an academy. Phew!
With rocket fuel now in the tank, a steering group will hopefully be established within the next few weeks to consult and hammer out what’s needed for the industry; the brief is to appoint a group that equally represents all the disparate parts of the industry - from craft to plant to supermarket. And if it’s successful, bakery could soon join the 14 academies already in place, within a year.
There’s no greater incentive than the sword of Damocles hanging over the industry - otherwise known as the Leitch Report, the key policy driver on workplace skills, that threatens to impose a training levy if employers do not meet exacting skills targets.
The initial funding for setting up the academy will come from the Learning & Skills Council; this means there is government funding - on a reducing level - for three years for creating the academy’s infrastructure. The idea is to establish a strong training provider network, if only to clear any confusion about what training is available. "There is a strong training base. A number of employers are already making use of that," said Justine Fosh, director of the National Skills Academy. "But some employers may not be aware of the training available. If we have somebody who wants to do a course with three people down in the south west, very shortly we would have provision for that. That’s what has been missing from the industry - a network operating geographically to make training available."
If the qualifications available are not suitable - for whatever section of the industry - then qualifications can be rejigged as the dairy industry has done. "I don’t think we’re talking about nuclear physics here; a large part of it is having a sectoral focus saying, ’Here’s what you have, and if it still doesn’t meet your needs, then let’s move on and get something else that does’," said Fosh.
There will not be one single central location for the academy, but it is likely there will be around six training providers, one of which will be the champion of that network. The steering group will seek to identify that champion as well as a five-year training needs strategy.
The critical outstanding question is how will it be funded? The government wants the academies to be self-funding and the suggested options for generating funding include an industry-wide levy, a membership scheme or supplier sponsorship. One of the delegates, Dave Brooks, MD of Finsbury Food Group, argued that retailer support would be fundamental. "Firstly, they’ve got quite significant funding available, and secondly, they’ve developed training plans for their in-store bakeries, which the sector skills council Improve could benefit from, rather than trying to reinvent their wheel," he said.
Two supermarkets have already expressed an interest in getting involved, said Fosh: "If organisations are willing to share [their training plans] - and that’s a big if - that is exactly what we aim to do, to reduce duplication." A number of firms and associations have also pledged their backing, including the British Confectioners’ Association
But, as Paul Morrow, MD of British Bakels noted: "The key thing will be that sector organisations are willing to put forward representatives on their behalf and caring employers are prepared to engage."