David Smart looks at the state of bakery education in the UK and feels that the industry is letting young people down.

Do you really know how desperate the condition of the bakery education system is? Well if you don’t, you should do because it affects you right now - this very moment as you read this.

We all expect to have fully trained bakers walk through our door, and without any cost to us, get to work on the tables and solve all our problems, which we have by the bucket-load, but we don’t seem to want to do anything to correct this major problem. All of you who read this and are of similar age to myself, will shudder in disbelief. I am also sure our bakery educators in our colleges must be so frustrated in being unable to complete and are being hindered from actually doing the job they love.

Without saying “the good old days” – ‘OK granddad’ I hear you say, when I had the privilege of attending Salford College of Technology under the headship of Mr Francis, a truly amazing head of department in my time there (1974-77) a full time course was exactly that, a full time course of five full days.

Yesterday I had the privilege of interviewing a young lady from a local college who was on a ‘full-time’ bakery course. She wanted to work to earn her passage through college, so well done her. She is available Wednesday and Friday -again great for me - so I asked if she was on a part-time course. ‘No,’ was her response. ‘Full time, 12 hours a week.’ Twelve hours a week? I nearly choked on my coffee. Twelve hours a week? That wasn’t even part-time in my day.

Rewarding passion

This young lady was very enthusiastic about the trade and very passionate in wanting to impress and give a good impression, which was a breath of fresh air, but somehow I felt that we, as a trade, are letting her down. She was only a first-year student, so underpinning knowledge of ingredients technology was naturally limited. Enquiring about her lessons on this subject, she said that they study ingredients more next year. Again, I felt as though we were letting her down; ingredients knowledge is surely the prime topic to be studied - as without it, we are nothing, nothing at all.

We also assume that bakery education comes from bakery colleges? Not at all; the best education comes from the manager talking with enthusiasm to their apprentice on the shop floor, every day. Difficulties may arise if the manager is equally lacking in technical knowledge and, if this is the case, knowledge dissipates to a limited few. This is where we are today, with knowledge slowly ebbing away. Why not send your managers on a key ingredient knowledge course, so they can learn and also pass on their knowledge to their charges?

One of my pledges as president of the Craft Bakers’ Association (CBA) was to promote youth within our trade, and their education and Integration. The CBA, our association, is working on our behalf to develop a new course to be taught in college or by assessment within your business. The syllabus is based on a similar line of the old ‘City and Guilds’, which stood the test of time for many years. It will still need our backing, but it is a step in the right direction.

The CBA is now inviting students and apprentices to become apprentice members for a very minimal fee of £15 per annum. This is something we, as employers, should encourage as students/apprentices want to learn and the CBA has a wealth of resources to call on. The Craft Bakers Handbook, due to be re-published, has been updated with all relevant new technologies and thoughts included within, masterminded by Jim Brown, himself a very eminent crafts person and technologist of respect. This reference book is suitable for both crafts person and apprentice alike. I would strongly suggest you call head office and reserve your copy.