As I write, it’s 8:31am on Wednesday 2 July and I am aboard the ‘Virgin Pendolino’ from Wigan (God’s own country) to London for the first Craft Bakers’ Association (CBA) board meeting after our conference...
...and my first meeting as your National President - what an honour! Or burden, depending on your standpoint.
We are all in business, and what a magnificent business to be in as well. We are independent, as much as we would like, and if we hit hard times, the vultures will certainly circle up above to pick the bones of all who have fallen. Very sadly I have seen this all too often over the past few years - some respected family names have left the industry and are all reminders to ensure we must not take our eye off the ball, even while travelling to London.
There are the distractions that keep us from doing what we really want to do, which is to bake, create, produce, tempt and tantalise our hard-fought customers into buying even more of our product, while making a bit on the side to make sure it all happens again tomorrow.
So just what are the distractions?
National and local government alike love to produce laws and guidelines – as this what they think they are there for. So the more they do it, the more they think they are doing a good job - it’s just like us producing an 800g loaf. What they forget is why they are actually here - which is to guide and lead the country, safely, into greater prosperity, ensuring parity among all who are prepared to strive for better.
The CBA is your ‘legal eagle’, watching your back, waiting to be asked a question, and desperate to help you steer a path away from courts, tribunals and messy litigation - all for the price of a phone call. And I bet half of you reading these jottings didn’t realise that there is a legal expert on the team.
Latterly we have been around the country giving seminars on pensions and the new 2014 labelling regulations. These are far-reaching requirements and, if you have not already prepared for their impact, please contact the CBA head office today and ask for Karen. We have all read in the daily red-tops that the new requirements for flexitime arrangements within your business, just around the corner, are the new shared maternity regulations, where both the mother and father can share the time period normally associated to just the mother. Don’t fall foul of employment legislation for the price of a phone call to head office.
2. Bakery education
This is really a well-chewed nugget, and is hard to digest.
Though successive governments have given education freely - which creates an expectant, “it should be given free” attitude - it also makes it very political. So when that policy stops winning votes or becomes really too expensive to operate, downsizing, restructuring, appraising the future strategy are all buzzwords for “It’s too expensive, so cut the expense out, then blame somebody else”.
We, as business owners, don’t want the added expense, especially when conditions are as they have been over the past few years. The bakery apprentice doesn’t want the expense and the government has stopped paying - so who pays? Because it is going to cost.
The cost so far is a generation of non-educated youth entering the industry - and these are slim pickings at best, as most want to be computer programmers or game designers. The bakery departments that have survived the onslaught of governmental cutbacks are further hampered by ever-tightening budgets and trying to attract funding by teaching barely appropriate qualifications.
I recently interviewed a 2014 college-leaver and I don’t wish to be over melodramatic, but OMG (oh my God), the student didn’t even know the name of the protein in flour or why we add fat to flour when making a pie paste. I would like to think that this was the exception more than the rule.
It’s time to take education back, it’s time to stipulate to the colleges what we want, and not the mindless committees who think mixing a roux is the same as mixing a true sugar batter sponge. It’s time to teach these up-and-coming hopefuls that knowledge of the ingredients is paramount, and is the very foundation on which their future career is built. The Craft Bakers’ Association is taking this fight head-on, so for anybody who wants to join the fight, you are very welcome to the trenches, mon ami! It will be a good and just cause.
3. Neolithic attitudes
Believe me, I can understand why we, as employers, don’t want to let staff go to other businesses - especially after we have trained them into what they are today (and especially after what I have said above).
In our business many years ago, it was frowned upon if you took British Baker magazine into the bakery because of the ‘situations vacant’ column. The trouble with this line of thought is that it’s very incestuous, the only teaching is from hand to mouth, and it’s very limited, at best.
Internships or short-term stays within a host business are an ideal medium for intense training on either bakery practices, bakery techniques or even just how the baker operates in a different culture; it’s all experience and the youngster will assimilate this into his or her future career.
Shortly, all students and career movers will have a link through the CBA website, which will connect employer and career-finder alike. Employers will be able to place available posts within their businesses and career-finders will be able to lodge their curriculum vitae. This will be another great service from the CBA, connecting enthusiastic youth with forward-thinking businesses.
This is the new Craft Bakers’ Association: working with craft bakery businesses and associated trades to build a stronger, progressive and collective organisation for the betterment of us all, the craft bakers.