D ear employers, are you looking for workers who are skilled, physically fit, intelligent, selfless, ambitious and prepared to wait for advancement? Should they be adaptable, loyal, prepared to work long hours for low pay, educate themselves, train themselves and have little or no social life? If so, you need a baker - and you will have to go back 50 years in time to find him or her.

The answer to this problem is that employers seem to know best. And that is the problem - there are too many experts who mostly know what they need, not what the employee/student/trainee needs.

A few weeks ago, I was approached by a head-hunter, who told me that there are lots of jobs out there to fill. "We need new product development specialists, troubleshooters and technicians; employers are screaming out for them - how many can you supply?" he asked. "None," I said, "they are spoken for."

"What must we do?" he asked. I replied: "You must be prepared to talk to schools; improve bakers’ ’image’ out there and tell them about these jobs; work with colleges to improve the incoming stock of young people; and be prepared to wait a while for them to arrive."

So why am I not surprised not to hear from him again? There are those of you who just want to pick the plums, whereas men of vision plant trees - and seldom see the fruit.

Why do most of the students/trainees come into the baking industry? The schools careers teachers send them because they think they cannot do anything else. Improved image is the key; most young people with a passion for food think "chef", because chefs on TV dominate the channels and talk with enthusiasm about their food. What do bakers do? Well, we put some old person with a savoy piping bag on TV once every 10 years.

Wake up, employers, your image is of an industry that works long hours, offers low pay and poor training - and now, HSE thinks we are at high risk from dust-related illness. This is what the intelligent kids are told about us. Young people need an industry with a vision of the future, which is prepared to invest in their education and training, wherever it is taking place.

They need: school liaison via DVDs, giving a balanced view of the industry’s opportunities and promoting a new image; support with studies, time off and guaranteed attendance at an education unit to gain a qualification; sponsorship via scholarships; a career path; and a qualification that is respected by the industry and reflects both its needs and the needs of the student.

The ragged remnants of colleges and those members of the baking industry with vision are banding together to create a plan for the future of bakery education and training. It hopes to put forward the needs of the wider industry and must have represented views from all sectors.

You will soon be able to contact the Alliance for Bakery Students and Training and offer to help with a joined-up long-term strategy to make our industry a place where young people will want to work. n