I must respond to your News Insight item ’Crunch time for training’ (27 June), to address what seems to be a lack of understanding regarding the important and entirely positive developments currently underway in bakery training in the UK.
You say that "a storm is brewing at the heart of bakery training", when in fact there has never been a better period of collaboration among stakeholders in all parts of the sector, who are working together to find innovative and workable ways of improving skills. And to say there is seen to be "a growing gap between the theoretical needs of the industry and practical hands-on experience that courses need to give their students" simply scrambles the issue.
Over the last two years, the problem that employers and training providers have been working in partnership to try to resolve is that there was a growing gap between the actual (not theoretical) needs of the industry and the often-irrelevant experience (whether theoretical or practical) that some courses gave to their students. For this reason, after much research and widespread consultation, the National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) in food manufacture have been reformed to make them much more respondent to demonstrating competence in the workplace. Consultation has been open to all with an interest in skills, and opportunities to get involved, either by simply responding to drafts online or by becoming a member of a consultative group, and this has been widely promoted.
In addition, a range of new Vocationally Related Qualifications (VRQs) have been introduced. These are primarily for young people looking for a relevant course of study before seeking their first job, and for those of any age who want to develop their careers by acquiring knowledge and skills that are complementary to, or add value to their existing jobs. NVQs and VRQs are different qualifications to meet different needs. Neither is on the way out.
As with all such developments, there is an onus on training providers at all levels to progress their own professional development by getting involved in open consultation processes and keeping abreast of completed changes, studying them, and getting to grips with the best way of implementing them. This is a necessary challenge for trainers if we are to improve skills in food and drink manufacturing.
Funding for courses is a perennial problem, but this is an issue for training providers to resolve with the Learning and Skills Council. The sector skills council is responsible for strategic skills planning, not funding for courses.
One of my senior colleagues offered to attend the bakery lecturers and trainers forum in Sheffield, referred to in your report, to answer questions, but the offer was not taken up. I hope Improve will be informed of the outcomes of the meeting, so I can find out if there is anything we can do to aid better understanding of the changes taking place.
Jack Matthews, chief executive, Improve (the food and drink sector skills council)