A well-respected baker has been tasked with driving the design of new industry training courses developed by the National Skills Academy (NSA) for Food and Drink Manufacturing, part of sector skills council Improve.

Ian Thomson, a second generation Master Baker and proprietor of Thomson’s bakery in Newcastle, has been appointed chairman of the NSA’s bakery steering group, which is made up of leading industry employers and stakeholders.

The steering group works alongside the NSA bakery network, a group of top-quality learning providers that specialise in training for the baking industry, in shaping the development of training programmes to ensure they respond to employers’ needs, with relevant content and an appropriate method of delivery.

Thomson takes over as NSA bakery steering group chairman from former Finsbury Foods boss Dave Brooks, whose tenure came to an end at the start of the year.

Alongside wife Jan, Thomson has run Thomson’s Bakery for the past 30 years, after taking over from his parents who established the business in 1956. The firm has grown to become one of the leading artisan bakeries in the north-east, employing a workforce of 15 and making a variety of specialist breads and cakes for a diverse range of customers.

As well as managing Thomson’s full-time, Thomson has worked as a bakery lecturer at Newcastle College, and also enjoyed a term as chairman of the National Association of Master Bakers Training and Education Committee.

“The bakery steering group has a great responsibility, but also a wonderful opportunity to restore bakery employers’ faith in training and skills delivery,” said Thomson. “The myriad of different national training programmes over the past 20 years or so has led to confusion amongst employers, and the sector no longer has a culture of training embedded in it.

“We all know that this situation isn’t sustainable – training is vital to boost productivity and profitability, and to ensure that our skills are passed down through future generations. The NSA provides us with a clean sheet from which to start from scratch – to look at what employers want and need, and to make sure that it can be delivered.”

The NSA bakery network is currently in the process of developing a new entry-level training course. The steering group is working with network champion Campden BRI, along with Leeds Thomas Danby and other network providers, to develop the course, which will be available from September.

The qualifications delivered by the course will ultimately be accredited within the new Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF), a flexible system that allows employers to build tailored training programmes for their staff, based on individual units of assessment covering job-specific skills and competencies.

The introduction of the QCF, which is being led by Improve, marks the most far-reaching reform of vocational qualifications in the past 20 years.

The units of assessment are being developed by employer technical groups, and Thomson is a member of the group responsible for shaping the bakery units. He said: “Any new course that we develop through the NSA must deliver nationally accredited qualifications in order to have worth among employers and employees. The introduction of the QCF is a very positive step, as it recognises that no two companies and no two trainees are the same, and it provides the flexibility for employers to put in place tailored skills development plans for their staff.

“We have been fortunate in that the initial work of the NSA bakery network is coinciding with the introduction of the QCF. This gives the industry a great deal of power in developing new qualifications that reflect the everyday needs of the workplace.”