While many bakers scrabble around to find suitable staff amid a national skills shortage, there is one firm with a human resources structure so successful that it is finding it tricky to accommodate new blood. Bakery supplier Macphie claims to have the lowest staff turnover in the industry and the average age of its workforce isn’t high. So it decided to go down the Modern Apprenticeship (MA) route.

With many college-based bakery courses cut because of funding restraints, Macphie opted to take on two apprentices: Adam Storey, 17, and Douglas Kidston, 18.

Future benefits

"Colleges aren’t delivering food technology or baking the way they used to, so we worked with the Scottish Association of Master Bakers (SAMB) and decided to take on additional people with a view to the future," explains Sylvia Halkerston, director of human resources at Macphie.

Halkerston believes MAs give the widest grounding in technical, supervisory and communication skills available to employers. But it is far removed from traditional bakery apprenticeships, she stresses. "It involves a whole load of elements that are above and beyond the traditional bakery apprenticeship," says Halkerston. MAs are available across every industry sector, with common elements for assessment such as health and safety. The bulk of MA training is on the job with comprehensive monitoring by a third party, such as by the SAMB.

According to the SAMB, there are 350 craft bakeries in Scotland with 12,500 people employed in the industry, 40% of which are bakers. Halkerston, who sits on the board of sector skills council Improve, says work is continuing into a skills need analysis, both north and south of the Scottish border, for future training needs. "There has been a lot of progress made towards the national skills academies and I’m delighted to say that the SAMB is part of that because it has set up its own skills academy already."

The benefits of a good human resources policy is demonstrated at Macphie’s chilled and frozen plant in Glasgow, which it bought from Oakwood Foods in 2000. At the time it had in excess of 90% staff turnover, but in six years that figure has been slashed to less than 1%. "This illustrates what happens when you give your staff clear opportunities and a commitment to training and development," says Halkerston. "I truly believe people don’t arrive in the morning wanting to do a bad job. When they have the right knowledge and skills they want to achieve more."

Macphie, which has a £37m turnover, says staff development should be integral to management structure rather than setting a separate box of cash aside for training. Putting a figure on Macphie’s training budget would therefore be "totally misleading," she says.

"I get very annoyed with employers who say they can’t afford to train - my view is they can’t afford not to. In some organisations quality standards and training are an add-on. An awful lot of discussion goes into capital expenditure on a piece of kit, but the highest cost to any company is its people. Other companies might outsource 60% of their training but we have reduced training costs year on year, and without subsidies. We have a learning centre, with high quality in-house training and we can also bring in external trainers."

training for all

In fact, every one of Macphie’s staff is undergoing development of some sort. But elsewhere in the industry, some of the best skilled individuals won’t see themselves as trainers and are in danger of not passing on those skills, she says.

Now the firm plans to develop MAs further as a means of recruiting and introducing the scheme to existing employees. The other apprentices that Macphie put through the scheme - 20 completed and four ongoing - are across a range of disciplines and age groups. A great example of how the scheme can work is the story of a part-time cleaner at the company that has now qualified as a scientist in the quality department. n


=== Course notes ===

The Modern Apprenticeship course runs for four years, starting with Bakery SVQ Level 2 for two years, which introduces dough production, flour confectionery, bakery distribution, bakery retail and service. Apprentices progress onto Bakery SVQ Level 3 for two years, which includes new product development. Progress can be quicker depending on how well the student adapts. An SAMB assessor routinely observes the apprentices on the job, tests their knowledge and judges their competencies against national standards.

SAMB assessor Alexis Malcolmson says: "The SVQ at Level 3 is a management toolkit, which will enable Macphie’s Douglas and Adam to meet the challenges they will encounter. They’ll gain a clear understanding of hygiene, health and safety, working with others and monitoring work performance. The Level 3 class is not only about maintaining processes but reviewing and enhancing them. Modern Apprentices should be challenged both in the workplace and with their training programme."

Six months into the course, Adam Storey, 17, says: "I had an interest in food so this takes me to the next step."