There was one company which undoubtedly came out on top when it came to training at the Baking Industry Awards last year. A fourth generation business, still owned and run by the Coopland family, Coopland & Son (Scarborough) has grown enormously since it moved to its purpose-built factory and current site in Caxton Way nearly 20 years ago. Back then the business had nine shops, explains operations manager Robert Pashley and winner of The Achievement in Bakery Training Award, sponsored by Rich Products. His colleague, production manager John Ruddock, took home the Trainee Baker of the Year award sponsored by Improve and the National Skills Academy.

In 2007 the business bought Hull-based Skeltons out of administration, which took it up to 77 shops with an additional factory. Today, the total stands at 86 outlets, plus seven cafés, after it acquired 10 of Leeds-based Ainsley’s shops earlier this year.

Passion for training

Although Cooplands is always on the look-out for new opportunities, Pashley points out that it is important that it expands at a rate that the business allows. "Our focus is on our shops, and we don’t want to lose sight of what’s important to the customer," he stresses.

Pashley says MD Paul Coopland is passionate about training. All Cooplands’ employees have on-the-job training and the firm has started its own training programme this year, with the help of a retired college lecturer. Pashley, production director Chris Wainwright and Ruddock worked with the lecturer to create a bespoke programme. Pashley says the firm also used the National Bakery School as a source of information for the proposed training. It includes bread, pastry and confectionery production, and confectionery finishing, delivered at its Scarborough and Hull sites.

As operations manager, Pashley’s role is varied and includes overseeing the operations in the main bakery, the transport system and the shops, as well as elements of training. "It is important that you train, as without it you wouldn’t have a future. Training has to go forward; it’s the only way we can survive as an industry," he says.

Having the right structure in place and the right team working with you is key to training success, he adds, likening it to a bicycle tyre. If the hub isn’t right, the spoke and rim falls apart.

Pashley was already a qualified baker when he joined Cooplands in 1994, having completed a City & Guilds, and worked in a number of craft bakeries, but still underwent the NVQ Level 2 when he started. "When I came here Cooplands had just started the NVQ programme we were one of the first to actually register for it and I thought, yes I already know it, but it can’t hurt to do it again."

He went on to take his assessors and trainers qualifications and a Certificate of Education, which he says covered how to deliver training and knowledge on the factory floor on a one-to-one and group basis. A measure of how successful the training and progression is at Cooplands is that the company has a low level of staff turnover.

"It’s great to see people coming up through the ranks, and we need that succession to continue," he says. "The training enables the company to be more profitable and for products to be made to a consistently high standard. If you can offer products made to a high standard and at a good price, what more can you offer?"

Team effort

Pashley is by no means the only one who delivers training at the company, but it was agreed that he should be put forward as the representative for Cooplands at the Awards. He says the win was morale-boosting and although he was the one on stage, it was a reward for Cooplands and a team effort across the board. He explains that, when the judges came to visit the bakery, they asked what he would do if he was given £10k to spend on training. His response was that it wouldn’t make any difference to the training Cooplands does. "At the end of the day the training will go ahead whether we have the money or we don’t," he says. "You don’t need much money to train, but you do need time."

Ruddock joined Cooplands in November 2001 aged 17 as part of the hygiene team, but quickly rose through the ranks, achieving the position of trainee charge hand in the bakery after around 18 months. He did a nine-month in-house training course a mixture of on-the-job training and some classroom work. He then moved up to a charge hand’s position within confectionery production and shortly after was promoted to supervisor. It was then that he was asked if he wanted to go to college. Ruddock undertook a BTEC National Certificate in Food Science and Manufacturing Technology at Thomas Danby College from 2006-08, which he passed with a double merit award.

"In 2007 Cooplands merged confectionery production and bread production together, and I was asked to be in charge of that," explains Ruddock. "And in April this year I was promoted to production manager (one of three)." He is now responsible for 14 staff over Cooplands’ two shifts. His day-to-day tasks involve making sure the right number of products have been made and that the quality is right, overseeing staff training rotas, health and safety training and delivering team briefs. "I also get quite involved with product development, which I enjoy," he adds.

Ruddock says that one of the judges told him that a key reason why he was chosen as winner of the Trainee Baker of the Year category was because of something he didn’t say, rather than what he did. Ruddock asked the judge to elaborate and was told that he hadn’t gone on about the quality of the products, because it was obvious that the importance of this goes without saying. "Everyone here was expecting me to win, but I really wasn’t, so I was chuffed to bits."

Ruddock believes that bakeries should get in touch with schools more, so that bakery can be promoted as a reputable career choice. "Careers such as being a chef have been marketed so well, but bakery hasn’t," he says. And he himself admits that he didn’t fully realise the complexity of bakery and the science behind it until he studied it at college.

Cooplands has had open days at the bakery in the past, and attended exhibitions and career conventions. It also takes young people on for work experience and hopes to employ more young people at 25, Ruddock is the company’s youngest employee.

Pashley also hints that the firm is looking at setting up its own in-house apprenticeship, although there are no concrete plans as yet. "It’s important not only to think about tomorrow, but three months, six months, five years ahead," he says.