The National Skills Academy for Bakery (NSA) is soon to reveal plans for an industry-wide vocational bakery skills foundation course. As such, British Baker was invited to gauge reaction from the craft industry on their training needs and received a mixed response.

"A foundation course sounds like a good idea, particularly to train in how to create a product ready for manufacture," said Mark James, commercial director of Sayers the Bakers in Bolton. "We would be prepared to invest time and money in that."

That positive response to the NSA’s bakery foundation course is fairly representative of craft bakers’ views around the country. But the thorny issue for many, when it comes to developing a universally acceptable course, remains cost and time. As one anonymous baker puts it: "A foundation course sounds good, but would we really have to lose someone for the day and pay for it?"

However, Chris Pocklington of Pocklingtons Bakery in Withern, is more philosophical. "You could say ’Why should I pay to train someone if they’re going to leave?’ But what if you don’t train them and they stay?"

Others echo his views and assert that they would pay pretty much whatever it took to get the right training, if it meant an employee was inspired, educated and, hopefully, encouraged to stay and progress with the firm.

There is also concern about making any course relevant. Says John Slattery, owner of Slattery Patissier & Chocolatier: "College training is out of touch with the real world. Students don’t learn speed or commercial production, just recipes and knowledge - although that is also important."

== Disillusioned young ==

Eric Rousseau, owner of Belle Epoque Patisserie in London, agrees: "The current system isn’t particularly good, as students learn at college, but as soon as they hit the industry they get disillusioned when they realise the job is so hard."

This is a problem others have encountered and Pocklington reckons the current system of NVQs doesn’t teach bakers how to operate in a commercial environment. He hasn’t put anyone in college since the City & Guilds courses were replaced. "We look for 18- to 25-year-olds with the right work ethic and put them with an experienced baker, which works well," he said. "But it does slow the senior member down a bit, while I’m paying for the younger person to watch, so they are not doing a full day’s work."

On-the-job training is the preferred option for many, like Simon Fairley, operations manager at Judges Bakery in Hastings, who explained: "We have people learning on the job at the moment, but if the right person came along and wanted to bring themselves up the ranks, we could be interested in a more formal course."

But for some, the reason given for not providing formal training is simply a lack of people willing to study. "The issue for us is fin-ding people to train," said David Smart, production director at Greenhalgh’s Craft Bakery in Bolton, who said staff can be reluctant to do an NVQ. "We lost the bakery schools because people didn’t want to do the courses. A foundation course is a wonderful idea, but whether anyone will do it is another matter."

Another anonymous baker added: "The [NSA] course sounds like a good idea, but the problem we have is trying to recruit young people, let alone train them."

Cooplands in Doncaster has offered NVQs but won’t be doing it this year, partly because those staff who haven’t had formal training aren’t interested, said Chris Wainwright, bakery manager. "Instead, we’ll trial a new bespoke system using the site, underpinning knowledge modules with practical training, and getting a trainer to come in from a bakery school."

== Lack of trainers ==

For Robin Jones, joint MD of the Village Bakery in Wrexham, it’s an issue of lack of trainers too. He said: "There are lots of trainers around, but they don’t deliver what we need. We’re also struggling to get youngsters to join us. The courses would need to be almost bespoke and flexible; we don’t make cakes here, so there’s no point someone coming to us and talking about cake-making."

Most bakers insist that any course would need to be right for them, and worth having their staff off-site for - and the majority would only be prepared to send them on a day-release course.

According to John Slattery, "Training is very important to us, although I always say qualifications don’t matter, skills matter more."

Perhaps the last word should go to one anonymous baker, who said: "Day-release is always better, as you can get a lot done. I did a four-year course, but I’m not sure people would invest the time now. However, you cannot become a craft baker in five minutes."