Chris Beaney, owner of Beaney’s bakery based in Strood, Kent, is evangelical about offering work experience. He liaises closely with local schools to open his business to about three pupils a year for one and two-week placements. This has proved so successful that he has gone on to give about six of them jobs in both full-time and part-time roles.
Beaney gets pupils involved in as many aspects of the business as he can, making sure he does not expose them to risk: they are not allowed to operate electrical machinery and unload ovens, for example. “By giving them work experience, we can find out if they are any good and report back to the school. Sometimes they come from broken homes and appreciate someone giving them a chance. It has been really positive.
Beaney gets upset when he hears negative feedback from other bakers who will not give it a try. Indeed, the National Association of Master Bakers (NA) and Improve, the sector skills council for food and drink manufacturing and processing across the UK, estimate less than 5% of the industry offers 14- and 15-year-olds work placements. Many blame bureaucracy, local bylaws as well as health and safety and insurance issues for making it too onerous to get involved.
While acknowledging the difficulties, NA chief executive David Smith wants the industry to get more involved – or at least help with recruitment problems. “It takes a lot of managing from the employers’ side and you have to have someone who can see the long-term benefit,” he says. “People tend to be too busy to go for it, which is part of the problem. I would advise people to look at it carefully.”
Smith says students on work placements will be able to experience a sense of achievement from working in a bakery, adding that the working hours “aren’t as bad as the rest of the world thinks” and that it can be a pleasant, satisfying environment in which to work.
Section 560 of the Education Act 1996, as amended by section 112 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, allows students in the last two years of compulsory education to participate in work experience where arrangements have been made by the Local Education Authority (LEA) – or school governing body on its behalf – as part of a child’s education. The government’s objective is for all Key Stage 4 pupils to receive two weeks’ quality work experience and, nowadays, more than 95% of pupils go on placements, although apparently not many in bakeries.
Trident Trust, which works with 90,000 employers across the UK, placing 140,000 students, says many employers will offer work experience because they want to support the next generation of young people. Spokeswoman Nicky Godding says: “What better way to introduce your business to prospective employees early?”
She says if employers have all the health and safety provisions in place for their staff, and have professional indemnity insurance, that should be enough to offer young people work experience.
Mike Holling, marketing manager of Derby-based Birds the Confectioner, believes 21st-century Britain is overprotective of its school children. He rues what he sees as the barriers to accommodating requests for placements.
Birds might not like the difficulties involved, but it nonetheless works through the red tape to take on about five children a year, where they request unpaid work experience, even though it is a voluntary arrangement and employers get no government funding for their participation. Holling regrets the industry is not as proactive as it could be in this area. “It gives the candidate real-life experience and they get the feel for this kind of work. For us, it is a way of getting people interested in the business,” he says.
North-east independent craft bakery Peters Cathedral Bakery, which has 70 shops, has looked at the possibility of offering work experience in the past but MD Peter Knowles says that, while it looked good in theory, that is as far as it went. “We had so many hoops to jump through – health and safety issues, counselling sessions – that we did not progress to this [the practical] stage, which was a great shame.”
David Smart, production director of Greenhalgh’s Craft Bakery, based in Bolton, Lancashire, took part two or three years ago, but is not currently involved because “finding suitable youngsters who wish to come into the bakery trade is like Mission Impossible IV”.
Greenhalgh’s, which has 42 shops and supplies the major multiple supermarkets, used to run the Saturday Morning Baking Club where 15- to 16-year-olds would come into its bakery school for three hours and learn baking. “As a marketing exercise it was very good, but for recruiting youngsters it didn’t work, apart from one person,” Smart says.
The Department of Education and Skills says the benefits for employers are that they:
• get an opportunity to influence the curriculum;
• can ensure new recruits come through with the right skills and attitudes;
• find the company’s reputation is enhanced in the community;
• are able to cut training costs;
• see an improvement in the communication and management skills of the employees involved;
• experience increased employee loyalty;
• gain access to fresh ideas through the original thinking of young people.
Christine Anderson, health and safety officer at Fine Lady Bakeries, which allows 14- and 15-year-olds on placements, says the problem is the machinery. “We don’t let them in the factory because they’ve got a habit of sticking their fingers where they’re not supposed to. It would be too much responsibility for whoever is controlling them.”
Fine Lady Bakeries allows pupils to work in the product development kitchen, where three people are able to supervise them. Anderson says local schools are aware of the business because it is a major employer in Banbury. “Normally they ask children to find their own placements, but children don’t want to work in bakery. It’s quite hot. If they are next to the oven, you’re talking of temperatures of 20-30ºC. You could say they are on their summer holidays but it doesn’t work.”
Meanwhile, Improve is working on the Manufacturing Diploma for 14- to 16-year-olds and the Young Apprenticeship Scheme – both learning programmes that it says will encourage the acceptance of children on work placements across the whole food and drink manufacturing industry, including bakery.
Work with Schools, a project that aims to provide an opportunity for all to learn about the links between the worlds of work, school and college suggest the following plan of action for employers:
• set up a strategy meeting with school managers;
• agree mutual aims, objects and work experience content;
• designate a time-table for work experience;
• identify students;
• devise a Service Level Agreement to include mutual expectations of students, parents, employers and school;
• design relevant application forms;
• assign relevant personnel and responsibilities, including staff who can assess the students’ progress and achievements;
• inform students and parents and arrange an informative parents’ evening;
• set targets for students, which can be regularly reviewed, and agree clear procedures for monitoring;
• identify criteria for assessment, which go beyond mere attendance and punctuality and include the development of personal and social skills and an understanding of the relevant
LEAs and schools have a common-law duty to look after their children and they have responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Etc Act 1994 to take responsible steps to ensure placements arranged will be safe.
Schools are required to check employers have suitable insurance in place. Should there be any accidents, employers must report this to the Health and Safety Executive or local authority under the Reporting of Injuries Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995. The Education Act 1996 places certain limitations on the sort of work pupils can do.
Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Etc Act 1974 gives LEAs, organisers and placement providers roles and responsibility for ensuring, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of students on work experience.
The Health and Safety (Young Persons) Regulations (1997) require employers to undertake assessment of any risks before any students begin.