I can now declare Sainsbury’s Bakery College officially open, said regional MD Anthony Hemmerdinger or words to that effect, as three bakery apprentices held up the red ribbon and bread chain, cut on 26 May.

Hemmerdinger told those gathered for the opening that bakery was a hugely important category for Sainsbury’s, albeit one of the most complex in terms of training. "It will really enable us to raise the bar with the consistency and the quality of the products we produce each day," he said of the new facility the first UK supermarket bakery college based at Whit-worth’s Mill in Wellingborough.

All 1,500 of Sainsbury’s bakery colleagues at its 412 in-store bakeries will have the opportunity to take part in a training programme at the college of these, 400 are bakery managers and 300 are apprentices. Its bakery managers were first in the door, with the first accepted on the two-day manager’s course in December 2009. The five-day course for new bakers kicked off in April.

"The main reason for opening the college was to create an environment that was conducive to training," explained John Hunt, part of the learning and development team. "It ensures we have a practical as well as theoretical environment."

The two-day course is approximately a 60/40 split for theory/production, whereas the five-day is around a 70/30 production/theory split. Hunt said the two-day workshop for managers is much more behaviour-based than the course for new bakers, which looks at the whole process of baking. "By the end of the week the new bakers will be making the products they would do in-store," he explained.

The workshop includes a tour of the mill to learn about flour, the biology behind yeast, hand-rolling, how to do a mix and what to do when things go wrong, and how to make rolls, French sticks and other breads that would be made in Sainsbury’s ISBs.

Quicker qualifications

Sainsbury’s has said the college will enable apprentices to halve the time it takes for them to complete the NVQ aspect of their training, as well as giving them a head-start on acquiring job-related qualifications.

Sainsbury’s category manager for bakery Kim Brown said that although the bakers were primarily being trained to make goods that would go into Sainsbury’s stores, they would also learn transferable skills that could be used in all areas of bakery. "The sole aim has been to raise the bar when it comes to quality and consistency across the estate," she said.

Brown added where its bakers had previously been trained in the live bakery environment, the college would allow a more experimental approach. For example, errors are baked through to illustrate what problems can arise and how they can be avoided.

Bakery coach Simon Herbert, who has undertaken the two-day course to see what his bakery managers will be learning, said when you’re working in-store, you are focused on sales, customers and getting the products on the shelves. Being able to take a step back from it all and make sure you’ve got the right skills is really worthwhile, he added.

Field trainer Hannah Carter added: "It allows us to give the ’why’. We talk about what the ingredients do, what it’s supposed to look and feel like," she said.

Head of learning and development Sue Round said the five-day course would hopefully inspire a deeper interest in bread. "We see bakery as key to our commercial strategy. By having such a unique facility, we can get everyone trained in the same way, so that our customers get a consistent experience," she said. "There has been a shortage of trained bakers, so we’re growing our own."