While the nation’s appetite for fresh bread is as healthy as ever, a long-term career as a baker is not often considered by today’s younger generation, but that’s a trend Sainsbury’s is looking to reverse with its Bakery Apprenticeship scheme.

So, what advantage does a major multiple like Sainsbury’s gain from a commitment to developing a highly skilled, highly motivated bakery team? Well, in today’s market, the bakery is symbolic of the fresh, healthy and safe food that the public now demands, Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King told British Baker in November 2006; he was also quick to acknowledge that fostering bakery skills is key to delivering within the in-store category.

"Fresh produce and bakery are the two key areas of the store," he said, stressing the importance of providing a continuous bakery service throughout the day. "Seeing people actually producing the bread has an impact on people’s view - not just of the bread sector but of the whole store. Also, the smell of bread drifting across the store is perceived as welcoming."

importance of apprenticeship

When you combine this growth in importance with the skills shortage currently being felt by the industry, the need for apprenticeship schemes and development programmes becomes increasingly apparent. Sainsbury’s scheme provides all the skills, training and support necessary to give someone the start they need in the baking industry - covering everything from producing bread, cakes and pastries to stock management and production planning. With these raw materials in place, the apprentice is provided with the support to develop, but is ultimately responsible for his or her own learning and progression.

And if Chris Noble is anything to go by, it’s a format that is working well. Noble joined the scheme, aged 22, at the Sainsbury’s store in Washington, Tyne and Wear. "I first read about bakery apprenticeships on Sainsbury’s website. I’d been working in manufacturing but wasn’t really enjoying it and I’d always been interested in cooking and baking, so I thought I’d apply. I was lucky enough to be selected," he says.

Noble reached a level of ability higher and faster than anyone could have hoped for, as his bakery manager, Colin Hudson, attests. "The quality of products he’s produced has been consistently brilliant. I wanted Chris to be a real success and he’s exceeded all my expectations by showing such aptitude. It’s a feather in the cap for the department and the whole store," he enthuses.

Indeed, Noble’s rapid progression has earned him accolades beyond those of his manager. In March 2007, he was a finalist in the Learning and Skills Council National Awards in the Apprenticeships category - recognition he was quick to share with his peers. "I learned a lot from my manager, who supported me all the way through, and I was ’buddied up’ with various members of the team, so I could learn hands-on from their experience. I’m grateful for everything I’ve learned. The apprenticeship programme has been a great start to my career. I love it because I can now perform every job to a very high standard," says Noble.

As more bakery apprentices on the scheme develop, they are offered opportunities to progress to become bakery managers themselves. "Before you know it, I may actually reach a supervisory role," he adds.

ability and ambition

This combination of ability and ambition is what Justin King is hoping will set an example for young people all over the country, as the bid to nurture a new generation of bakers gains momentum. The impact of the new apprentices can be felt beyond just the individual’s learning and development. The introduction of enthusiastic new bakers with a willingness to learn has also had a dramatic effect on existing bakery teams. Says Hudson: "The arrival of Chris Noble created a level of competitiveness that wasn’t there before, so everyone has raised their game."

In today’s baking industry, this is a breath of fresh air for managers, says Hudson. Not only does it provide them with a chance to share their passion, experience and knowledge, but it also helps create a stronger, multi-skilled workforce, allowing managers the freedom to concentrate on their broader bakery duties. "It has allowed me to take a step back and take an overall look at how my department is working," he says. "Having spent time on Chris’ training and development programme, I’ve been able to apply those skills to other members of the team. That passion for learning has certainly rubbed off on other people."

With more grocery retailers around the country realising the importance of a visible, interactive bakery and training high on many an industry body’s agenda, a career in bakery may be on the way to regaining the consideration and attention it truly deserves. n


=== The Sainsbury’s scheme: ===

Name: Sainsbury’s Bakery Apprenticeship Programme

When did it launch? March 2006

How many apprentices have enrolled so far? 30

Where does training take place? In-store coaching and classroom sessions

What qualifications do apprentices achieve? NVQ Level 2

How long does a typical apprenticeship last? 15-18 months

What skills does the training teach? Producing a range of quality products; customer service; food safety; health & safety