The recent ABST conference was a great success, with more people attending from more colleges. Judging by the quality of many of the competition entries there is some excellent talent coming through.
The fact that so many companies also very generously sponsored this event shows that the trade appreciates the value and need for training.
So is everything in the garden rosy? Well, no. Talk to any employer either running a bakery or supplying the trade and they will bemoan the difficulties of getting good young people. But attend the conference as someone who employs people and you will be inundated with keen youngsters asking for assistance in getting employment. I was approached by at least 30 people wanting assistance with finding a job, even though I no longer have a business or employ anyone. There seems to be a missing link.
This week I have been judging The Rising Star Award category, which I am sponsoring, at the forthcoming Baking Industry Awards and on which we will report in a future edition. The judges and I were very impressed by the number and overall quality of entries, but it was surprising and disappointing to us that of the students who entered none have gained any extra practical experience. Several of them have been very successful in competitions, attended short courses at Richemont and so on, but have not actually worked in a local bakery on their days off, weekends or holidays.
What they learn at college is excellent, but it needs expanding and tempering by good hands-on experience. I don't want to sound like a boring old "in-my-day-I-did and-it-didn't-do-me-any-harm" person, but while attending the National Bakery School full-time, I also worked Sunday and Friday nights plus holidays for the excellent Fred Ayres at his bakery in south-east London.
Apart from paying for my studies, this also provided wonderful practical experience, which, when blended with my college work, was the foundation on which I built my career. It also showed my future employers that I had a strong work ethic.
The more I try to think what the missing link is between the trade wanting good young people and students struggling to find suitable employment, the more convinced I am that this lack of practical experience is a large part of the problem. So, for the 2012 ABST Conference I am aiming to put together workshops, where potential employers can explain what they are looking for when recruiting.