Momentum is gathering around the National Skills Academy Training Centre for Bakery. Whether this ends up based at Campden and Chorleywood Food Research Association (CCFRA), as mooted, or emerges as a handful of satellite colleges, scattered across a wider geographic reach, is still up for debate. Fosters Bakery, for one, would like to see a national skills centre set up in Barnsley. This is not surprising - Fosters is based in Barnsley.

But the town, something of a hotbed of bakery action, makes a good case for being involved in the national set-up. Bakers large and small in Yorkshire and Humber are particularly clustered around Barnsley. The map opposite, from a study undertaken by regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, shows that Barnsley has some 6,000 bakers working across the town.

Given that Barnsley College is undertaking a £60 million rebuild, including a bakery, what better place to locate the National Skills Academy than there, asks, Michael W Taylor, operations director of Fosters Bakery. And a renewed emphasis on skills training has paid off for this baker over the last four years.

== Career pathway ==

"During my time at Fosters Bakery we have developed new initiatives to address education and skills issues. The principle behind these initiatives was to create a career pathway for all our employees, through lifting the skills level of each individual to enhance our reputation and that of our customers," says Taylor, who was appointed operations director in October 2004.

His brief was to develop a stronger culture of investment in people. Examples include two Knowledge Transfer Partnerships with Sheffield Hallam University (Human Resources and IT); NVQ Levels 1 and 2 training, which is linked to pay and reward; and provision of opportunities to bring ex-offenders back into the workplace. In recognition that many local people do not choose to work in the bakery sector, it sought new labour sources from Eastern Europe and put in place English language training (ESOL) for them.

However, this is a short-term solution to the local labour shortage and the links with educational establishments should help address this issue in the longer term, says Taylor. This is where the national skills centre comes in.

"The overall aim is for Fosters to stand out as an excellent and leading-edge employer in the industry," he says. This will enable us to attract a far higher quality of recruit. An integral part of delivering this vision is to develop a skilled, committed and adaptable workforce that is able to contribute to a changing work and business environment. The initiatives implemented so far have helped contribute to this."

== local participation ==

Furthermore, participation in the local community through school visits and work experience programmes has been a success. Fosters won the Barnsley Chamber’s 2006 business award for its commitment to education, through activities that have a positive impact on business, education and young people.

And Taylor adds that links with Lindholme prison and Moorland Open prison in Doncaster have provided the company with some excellent trained bakers. Lindholme has an on-site bakery where prisoners can work while completing baking qualifications.

"We have employed 10 members of staff from the prison in total, all of which have achieved either NVQ Level 2 or 3 in bakery. Their expertise is valuable to the company and they have been paid in accordance with our grading structure, which is linked to the attainment of NVQs. Their expertise is shared with fellow colleagues and they have provided inspiration to others to progress to this level," he says. In addition, one employee on a six-week placement through the ’Entry to Employment’ scheme has proved himself very capable, despite having no bakery experience. "When his placement is finished, we will be offering him full-time employment," says Taylor.

Better skill levels among employees has paid off, with a better understanding of the nuts and bolts of making bread, he adds. "As staff are trained in bakery processes, they understand the science and technology behind the work they are undertaking. This has ensured they can identify potential problems and raise them, before it becomes a major issue. This has eliminated errors, which in turn has reduced waste." n


=== Need to know: ===

There’s a shortage of food scientists and technologists

The UK food and drink manufacturing sector employs some 9,000 food scientists and technologists. Currently one in four of these jobs is vacant.

This role is vital to coming up with new products, developing processes that can save costs and increase productivity, without which new manufacturing machinery cannot be developed or commissioned.

Yet as we are aware from our daily newspapers, students are no longer interested in sciences; graduates prefer business degrees and those who do opt for science are not attracted by our market sector.

So what is being done about this? As part of the Sector Skills Agreement (see last week’s BB), Improve, the Skills Sector Council for bakery, has consulted with higher education funding bodies in England and Wales to access funding to develop a conversion course.

The work is very much in its infancy but is aimed at delivering food scientists from within the workplace or from returnees to work. In order for this project to be a success, Improve says it requires expertise from employers and training providers to design, build and deliver the course content, so that food scientists can be grown for the sector.

A number of other food sectors have shown great interest in this area, says Improve, and are working with universities to provide bursaries for students studying food science. This, and other activity, has seen a 4% increase in the number of students studying food science over the last two years.