I have long since lost count of how many articles I’ve read, or presentations attended, over the past 24 months concerning skills levels within the baking industry. The message has always been fairly clear and consistent: the number of people who have core and practical baking knowledge are becoming few and far between and, overall, there is a serious lack of the basic craft skills that underpin all bakery production. Until this is universally addressed, the industry will be heading for Armageddon.
Despite listening and agreeing and, some would say, being told until you are blue in the face sometimes it needs a similar effect to a bolt of lightning to cause you to wake up to reality.
So what has changed? What has caught my attention, causing me to raise my head above the parapet?
I believed that finding someone to manage a small craft bakery in Melton Mowbray wouldn’t present a problem. There would be lots of people, so I thought, with hands-on ability and great craft skills perhaps people with the skill levels of what used to be known as ’journeyman bakers’. How naïve am I?
It was Ian Wheal, Ken Christopher, Fred Kidman et al from the National Bakery School who introduced me to the science and wonderment of baking. Their passionate enthusiasm for passing on their knowledge and skills was legendary especially to those at the receiving end! They certainly instilled into me an almost insatiable desire to learn more and sent me on a career path.
It was in Germany that I discovered that Meister Bakers and Konditors were held with the same respect and social esteem as bank managers. Hmm, that was 30 years ago in Germany how does this sit in the Britain of today?
Realistically, we are all now working for probably 50 hours for the return once obtained from 40. Challenging and saving costs has become mandatory. Production schedules and staffing levels are as lean as they’ve ever been. It’s so easy to become embroiled in the detail of today and tomorrow. As important as this may well be, let’s not lose sight of the fact that quality products are made by quality people and those people need the appropriate skills and knowledge.
So what’s my conclusion? Although we do train our people, the industry as a whole obviously needs to do more. It needs to adopt a way of ensuring craft skills are intrinsically shared and retained, so as to protect the future well-being of the trade. And I keep looking for that golden nugget a bakery manager with the passion and skills to match our heritage.