Craft bakeries fear a massive skills shortage, as the flow of bakers from Eastern Europe dries up and those already here return home.
With the fall in the value of the pound and the economic slowdown, the UK is less attractive to migrant workers such as bakers. In contrast, the Polish economy is predicted to grow by 5.4% this year and 3.8% in 2009, tempting many to return home.
London-based agency Employ-ment Choice has seen a 15-20% drop in the number of Eastern European bakers on its books in the past six months, while Home Office figures show the number of Eastern Europeans registering for work in the UK fell by 22,000 between July and September - a drop of 40% compared to the same period in 2007.
The worry among bakers is that there is not enough home-grown talent to fill the void. At Fosters Bakery in Barnsley, which employs 240 staff, operations director Michael Taylor said: "Finding Latvian and Polish workers is a struggle. Bakeries still relying on them are going to come unstuck. Around 25% of our staff are from Eastern Europe and we expect that to fall to around 10% in the next few years. In 2011, when Germany relaxes its immigration laws, we expect even more workers to move on. Germany is a lot closer to Poland than the UK."
Fosters has invested heavily in training to help fill the impending skills gap, embarking on a series of training projects with colleges and the local Job Centre.
London craft bakery Flourish employs 38 staff, with around 80% from Eastern Europe. Director Helen O’Connell said the company had written to French and Spanish bakery schools to offer newly qualified students work experience. "We’ve lost a few Polish staff recently," she said. "Recruitment is getting tougher."