While the current high UK unemployment figures, 2.5m and rising, cause any amount of misery and hardship to those directly involved and their families, they do provide a real opportunity for the baking industry. It is an unfortunate fact that, historically, when unemployment reaches these heights, recruitment does become easier and brings a higher-calibre person into our range.
Not that long ago, when unemployment was around the 1m mark, my local job centre phoned me and said they had a client who was prepared to come and interview me as one of his prospective employers! At that level, the unemployed either couldn’t or didn’t want to work. For various reasons, we are now better-placed to make the most of these potential new bakers than we’ve been for a very long time.
I don’t know why, but there appears to be a resurgence in colleges and bakers providing bakery classes around the country. Many of us have had our own opinions on bakery education, but let’s be joyful and seize the moment - people are interested in joining our profession! Having attended the rejuvenated Alliance of Bakery Students and Trainees conference in Torquay in May, the student numbers were up, support from sponsors was up, and the quality of product, especially some breads, was the highest for several years.
The ’Bakery School’ - at www.thebakery school.com - is a tremendous way to provide underpinning knowledge to those in work. How fortunate we are as an industry to have people like Albert Waterfield and Jean Grieves, who have the vision, commitment, and energy - coupled with some financial help from, among others, the British Confectioners’ Association - to drive this great initiative forward.
The British Retail Consortium’s latest figures for food sales in May show a strong upward trend. This may be partly linked to the so-called ’Domino Pizza effect’, with people staying at home rather than eating out. This should be positive for an industry providing fresh, inexpensive but indulgent products.
Never forgetting the implications to society of high unemployment, it does provide a hard work/lower wage industry, such as ours, an opportunity to recruit and recruit well. Colleges are booming and there is a wonderful new initiative for in-work learning. National Craft Bakers’ Week last week provided unprecedented levels of interest in our industry and products.
So, rather than getting dragged down by the doom and gloom being peddled by the media, I suggest we use the current situation to build up our core of skilled and talented bakers, so we are in a position to seize the exciting opportunities that will come our way as soon as financial recovery rolls in.