BSB chairman Keith Houliston’s decision to hold the British Society of Baking spring conference at Tameside College near Manchester was a brave one, as it meant not the usual comfortable hotel surroundings and it was farther north than its normal central England location.

But it was an inspiring, happy, thought-provoking, challenging and, above all, entertaining day! And the hospitality provided by students was fantastic. Many also attended the conference and supplied delicious bakery products and desserts to eat.

And in a real-life Dragon’s Den scenario students had to pitch and present a new product they had made to David Smart, production director of 59-shop chain Greenhalgh’s; Jean Grieves, former tutor and assistant principal of Tameside; Steven Salt, Tameside tutor; and Bakels’ Keith Houliston. After each pitch they were challenged on ingredients and recipe costs and, suffice it to say, students had to face both compliments and constructive criticism, as in real life. But they produced some fabulous products, with Kim Price gaining the coveted winner’s prize of £150 for her Chocolate Chilli Choux Bun.

Economic sense

Earlier, the day began with principal Peter Ryder pointing out that government is finally beginning to realise that making and selling goods is vital to the economy.

He was followed by assistant principal Chris Massey telling us that, at Tameside, "bakery courses run through our veins".

Then, inspirational tutor Lorna Jones read out Tameside’s mission statement (see below) and you began to realise that when Tameside recruited Lorna, many years ago, they were looking for, and got, someone above the ordinary.

Delivering what

the industry needs

Jones told the 70-plus managers and delegates from all sectors of bakery: "Tell us what you need and we will deliver."

She ran through the different options on the curriculum (see panel), which can be taught with special emphasis where needed, and said the college also welcomed mature students. She thanked the Worshipful Co of Bakers for its sponsorship of the Richemont and other courses and said that Tameside, and tutor Steven Salt, were proud to be involved in competitions over recent years, including the Louis Lesaffre World Cup, Sigep World Cup, and to have won Hovis scholarships for the last two years.

Finally, she testified to the success of former pupils such as Harry Clegg, who first asked to study one day a week at age 13! After completing later courses, he is now a successful baker at Morrisons. Among other former students is Gabrielle Baxter, now a bakery technologist at bakery ingredients firm CSM (United Kingdom).

Muntons Nigel Davies spoke about how green initiatives must also save money. As the Sunday Times Best Green Company for three years running, he said the company’s products, such as Spraymalt, were able to replace between 25-100% sugar, requiring up to 10% less bake time. There were products to cut down on bread baking time too, enabling energy savings of around £6,000 in one small bakery, he said.

Retail perspective

Morrisons’ craft manager for qualifications Vera Foreman was passionate in her affirmation to delegates: "We have a lot of pride and passion in what we do in bakery at Morrisons!" She added that, nationwide, there is a 16,000 shortfall of bakery and butchery apprentices in the industry.

Morrisons is the second-largest fresh food manufacturer in the country, but the difficulty in finding trained bakers led her to set up the retailer’s own apprenticeship programme 15 years ago. "Since that date we have put through 1,300 bakery apprentices, with the oldest age being 57," said Foreman.

She explained Morrisons’ thorough approach: "We have a structured interview for each candidate. If successful, they are sent to college in four-month blocks. We use four colleges around the country but there are none in Wales. We have 429 bakeries and bakers are trained to hand-roll.

"As well as attending college our in-store programme is structured. Apprentices are on production three days a week, making three doughs a day. Then there are weekly performance reviews with the bakery manager. The apprenticeship leads to NVQ Level 2, but we deliver 11 units, three more than the eight required."

She added: "Since 2007, 55 of our bakery apprentices have gone on to become supervisors or department managers. I get a fantastic sense of achievement when I hear that my managers did their bakery training two years ago. Our turnover for bakery apprentices is just 11% compared to a national average of 30% for general jobs in retail. As a trade we simply don’t shout enough about bakery.

"Last year, we took a group of bakery apprentices to the Houses of Parliament and, on another occasion, we met with Prince Charles, who thought what we were doing was fantastic."

She added: "When we ask potential apprentices how they heard about us, they say, ’From other guys down the road’. We visit schools and colleges and are really proud of what we do. The problem is that careers officers are not aware enough of the careers that can be had through bakery. They don’t think bakery is ’sexy’, but I do," she exclaimed.

Opportunity knocks

Sara Autton, now a director of Fermex, inspired students and delegates with her tale of how she loved baking as a child, especially making and decorating cakes.

Then, illustrating the opportunities available, she traced her career path through top patisseries in London, before going on to study at National Bakery School (NBS). She said: "While there, I discovered I loved raw material sciences."

Autton went on to become one of the NBS’ top students. Scholarships, from the Worshipful Co of Bakers and others, enabled her to buy all her books. After a spell at Sainsbury’s she applied for a job in a test bakery, "because I was still fascinated by reactions to do with ingredients such as salt, fat, eggs and sugars".

She then went on to study for a two-year honours degree at NBS and attained a first. Next, she went to Marks & Spencer and finally Fermex, owned by Lesaffre, where she is a director and hands-on technologist. She said: "My fascinating job involves helping firms with everything from starter cultures and special yeasts to dried levains, improvers and seeds. There are so many different jobs in bakery." At the end of her inspiring talk, students gathered round and plied her with questions.

Throughout the day, delegates were served with delicious baked goods and an excellent buffet lunch, all prepared by students and their tutors. Sessional chairmen David Tomlinson, formerly of Warburtons, and Mike Holling of Birds of Derby fielded comments and questions after each session.

But the BSB spring conference was a day when we learned about bakers of the future and they learned about enjoyable careers ahead.

Mission statement

"Tameside will transform lives by offering first-class education and training in order to improve employability and prosperity"
Read out by Lorna Jones, Tameside bakery tutor

Tameside curriculum

Traditional breadmaking whole range
Craft, continental, plant (high-speed mixing), sponges, sourdoughs, premixes, cake decorating and flour confectionery, patisserie, pastry from scratch (lessons include theory), management and leadership skills.
Every learner is encouraged to: join the student and trainee organisation ABST, to enter competitions, visit bakeries, give demonstrations in high schools and fund-raise.

BSB delegates’ comments to chairmen

l "There’s not enough funding coming through for bakery training."
l "Craft bakers need to start using the word ’artisan’ more. It is a marketing tool. You can command a higher price."
l "Why is much of the baking industry accepting Food Standards Agency regulations on salt levels when it produces an inferior product?"
l "We must continue to work with the Department of Health on lowering salt levels. Your palate adapts."
l "We should sell the nutritional properties of bread more, not just allow the focus on salt."
l "There should be more focus on what people put on bread or in sandwiches. Stop blaming bread."
l "If you want people to choose their craft bakery over a supermarket, the experience must be very good. They must want to come back for more."
l "Craft products need to be really fresh and good, and staff well-trained."
l "Automation in a craft bakery is good, but you still need hand skills."
l "The younger generation must be prepared to relocate to learn their trade. I went to Cardiff, France and Switzerland to learn mine."
l "Good baking skills helped me travel around the world. Every country needs them."
l "You have to learn bakery skills from scratch to diagnose faults."

Conference dates

Remember that the ABST student conference takes place at Alton Towers, June 10-12. All bakery students and trainees are invited to attend and enter competitions. Bakers are especially requested to send trainees. For details contact