Bakery schools are becoming an endangered species," says Chris North, bakery lecturer, at Castle College. "If we were white rhinos, there would be a committee formed that would seek to preserve us. If we want the industry to survive, we need to give trainees and youngsters a lot of support and encouragement, which is why competitions like this one help, as they bring together craft bakers and students."
The annual Sheffield Bakery Competition is open to students attending Sheffield College, Doncaster College and Rother Valley College, as well as local craft bakers, including Staniforths (Rotherham), Hofmann and Sons (Wakefield) and, from Sheffield, Barkers the Bakers, JW Rose, Sparks Confectionery, Brook Bakery and Shelf Village Bakery.
Sheffield’s Lord Mayor Councillor, Jackie Drayton, also turns up to witness the judges in action and to offer her support to the industry. "Bread is the food of life," she says to the bakery students at Castle College. "You are the future of this extremely important trade. I know how much you must enjoy baking, because I have a go at making my own bread too. I love the smell."
The panel of judges is chaired by Charles Geary owner of Geary’s Bakeries. He explains to the Lord Mayor what he looks for in the winning entry: "It’s got to have a nice even texture from the top to the bottom, that’s soft but not crumbly, with a nice nutty aroma." The panel of judges also includes Beverley Habgood of Nottingham, Paul Rodgers of Doncaster, Roy Handy of Rotherham and Andrew Crowe of Bradford.
"Such competitions encourage local craft bakers to learn about Sheffield College and become aware of our talented bakery students," says North. "We hope such initiatives will help students gain a job, in this area, after graduating."
He strongly believes the industry "needs to get bakery education back on track", as there has been much concern expressed about the lack of trained individuals recently. The Castle College bakery teacher says that the worrying thing is that there are huge parts of the country where there are no local bakery training providers. "There used to be training ’all over’ the north of England. We are going to run dry of people with bakery qualifications. In that case, employees from Holland, Germany and France - where they do five-year apprenticeships - will have to support our industry."
North believes that the industry needs to fund its own training and could do this through a levy - for example, on yeast or flour. The money could then go into a pot to fund bakery colleges and schools.
"I’m always hearing that people are desperate for trained staff. The problem is that there are a lot of people who think that others should do the training," he says. "Employees want workers who already know about raw materials, machinery, legislation, labelling and all sorts of wonderful things, but at the same time are unwilling to help support the students. It’s not realistic.
"Bakers from all sectors of the industry need to join with colleges and providers, and agree what they are going to do. A committee needs to be set up, with a desire to see the whole industry survive rather than just individual businesses."
School leavers are advised against careers in baking, he believes: "I suspect that people say, ’Don’t do that - you have to start at 4am, you will get paid peanuts and it’s a terrible job.’ This is the perception of us. This may be true for some working in the industry, but those who are qualified and committed, with brains and determination, can earn a good living, while doing something they love. This is the message we need to pass on, which is why we encourage competitions like this and invite craft bakers and students to enter." n