John White, director of the UK Federation of Bakers, said that Britain's bakery sector was struggling to attract new food science and technology personnel. "It gives the industry cause for concern," he told BakeryandSnacks.com.
The UK's recently established food and drink sector skills council, Improve, agreed with White's comments, saying that it was aware of shortages in food science and technology across the entire food industry but had not gathered any statistics as yet.
The group's newly appointed director of employer engagement, Karen Brown, will shortly be leading a team charged with scouring Britain to more fully identify skills gaps in employers' workforces. Improve receives government funding and may apply for extra money from the Learning and Skills Council and Regional Development Agencies.
However, what this means in the short-term is a further lack of training for those bakery industry employees who, despite the more mechanised nature of Britain's bread industry compared to the dominance of smaller craft bakeries in France and Italy, need to know about a range of technical issues from the functionality of ingredients like sugar and fat to the qualities of different flour types.
"Some of the excess fat in products does not need to be there. Often some of it is only there because the process hasn't been thought through properly," said Paul Catterall, baking business manager at the Campden and Chorleywood Food Research Association (CCFRA). He helps to run short courses on a range of topics from biscuit technology to pastry products and shelf-life for both young and experienced industry workers.
"There's a serious lack of training within the bakery industry. Understanding what ingredients do is vital. Every area relies on understanding the processes involved and you can also use that knowledge to develop new products," said Catterall, adding that general knowledge of baking processes and ingredients was possibly worse than it was 10 years ago.
A recent bakery industry report by Improve, though using mainly 2001 data, found that bakery production was one of the top three most commonly reported training needs, alongside food hygiene and communication. However, the report also said "a significant number of companies fail to provide structured training to a recognised standard," and "some employers see training more as a cost than an investment".
Catterall believes a large part of the training problem is also greater job rotation within companies and the industry as a whole. He said the fact that people tend to move around from job to job every two to three years means that few can attain the specialist knowledge of one process.
That is why CCFRA has begun offering more and more intensive courses to help those in the industry get a better grounding in their particular field. Courses coming up in February include practical cake technology, croissants and Danish products and another on bakery shelf-life. For more information see CCFRA