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What's it really like?
Matt Jones is an experienced and skilled craft baker running his own Greenwich-based bakery business: Flour Power City Bakery.
For Matt, bread is in the blood and he grew up in “a house where mum was always baking”.
It's taken years of hard work and dedication, but Matt is now at the top of his trade and currently employs a small dedicated team of artisan bakers. At Flour Power, there's an emphasis on natural ingredients and processes – a far cry from the mechanised world of the plant bakery. Matt tells us why being a baker is not just a job, but a way of life:
“I’ve been baking professionally for nine years and I was previously a chef for fourteen years, working in numerous London restaurants. My advice to anyone thinking of entering the profession would be to stay away from large industrial plant operations, especially at the start of your career. For me, the best aspects of the job are the textures, the smells, the endless stream of creativity, and the joy of feeding happy customers. Baking is a touchy-feely kind of thing. If I hadn't started baking, I’d have been a sculptor. As for the down side of being a baker, it is very hard work! The hours can be difficult because a lot of evening and night work is involved. However, I have to say that I think the hours are great as you have the luxury of driving on clear roads after work - even in London!"
A baker bakes and sells bread and bread products, as well as pastries and cakes.
Although bakers rely on state-of-the art machinery and modern techniques, there's nothing new about the profession itself. People have been baking bread in one form or another for 10,000 years, and leavened bread (made with yeast) and closed ovens were known to the Egyptians in around 3000 BC!
Today, the role of a baker involves much more than simply baking bread. In the past, bakers usually worked on their own, producing baked goods in small quantities and selling locally. In the UK today, most of our bread is produced by several large baking companies, which manufacture bread and bakery products on a massive scale.
As a nation, we get through around 10 million loaves a day. The UK bread industry is worth an estimated £3 billion, and employs well over 20,000 people. The seven members of the Federation of Bakers alone, with their 44 bakeries, bake and deliver 80% of our daily bread.
Bakers in the UK fall into one of the following categories:
In-store bakeries and plant bakeries are the biggest employers and they are outcomes of our demand for 24-hour access to fresh food. Bakers used to work through the early hours of the morning to produce fresh bread, but working patterns are no longer so rigid. As an in-store or plant baker, you would normally work a 35-40 hour week with some shift work also likely.
Craft bakers have been almost squeezed out of the market by plant and in-store bakeries. With higher labour costs and overheads, many individuals have had to move away from the role of a traditional baker to stay in business, incorporating catering, takeaway, and other services into their business.
On the positive side, recent years have seen increased public demand for "real food" and many supermarkets now buy bread and baked goods directly from craft bakers as well as plant bakers.
The growing importance of "Breads of the World" and "ethnic breads" (such as naan and pitta) is represented by the fact that unusual bread-making has become the fastest growing sector of the UK baking industry. This has provided more opportunities for specialist bakers, although the main outlet for their sales is the supermarket rather than a craft bakery.
Trainee bakers can expect to earn minimum wage or a little more - in the region of £12,000 per year based on a 40-hour working week. After three to five years and/or a relevant qualification, employees can expect to earn £15,000 to £19,000 per year.
Skilled craft bakers working independently or in a restaurant environment (where they may prepare pastry and desserts, as well as bread) can make £25,000 to £35,000 per year.
Successful entrepreneurs with their own bakery can earn in excess of £40,000 per year, but this will mean long hours and their role is likely to involve business management, marketing, and staff management.
The roles and responsibilities of a baker vary considerably depending on the type of bakery employing the individual. However, typical tasks include:
In-store bakers and craft bakers may also:
Many bakery jobs require no specific qualifications. This applies particularly to junior positions in the plant or in-store bakery sectors, where on-the-job training is provided.
For more specialised or craft bakery roles, completing a vocational or degree course in a bakery discipline will definitely improve your prospects. Experience is often equally as important as qualifications, so look for a course with a substantial practical component and/or opportunities for work experience placements.
The following City & Guilds qualifications are useful in the bakery industry and are offered by many local colleges and higher education institutions:
The courses are usually run on a part-time basis (2 days a week, 300 hours of total contact time), allowing you to combine study and practical work experience.
For those with the time and money to study for a degree, a Foundation Degree (FdSc) in Baking Technology Management (BTM) was launched in 2007. The course has been designed to be relevant both to individuals new to the industry and to those who have been working in the baking industry for some time but are looking to develop their knowledge and skills. Entry requirements stipulate a minimum of five GCSE passes at Grade C and one A Level pass.
The FdSC BTM is a 2-year course, which offers at least one work placement. As well as practical bakery skills, the course equips students with business knowledge to help them set up their own bakery enterprise. It also provides individuals with knowledge about the issues affecting the UK baking industry, including environmental and health and safety concerns.
Both the full-time degree courses and part-time courses are offered by the National Bakery School at London South Bank University. This training provider is well-respected and long-established - in fact, it's the oldest bakery school in the world.
Short courses are also available, such as those run by the Federation of Bakers in conjunction with the industry, which offers an introduction to plant baking and a bread weights and measures course. For a list of available courses, visit the bakery course section of the Federation's website.
The following skills are important in the baking industry:
The 1954 Night Baking Act led to significant improvements in working conditions for bakers and it still forms the regulatory framework for the baking industry. Bakers often work unsociable hours and shift work is common, with many plant bakeries operating around the clock. Baking involves some physical work, such as carrying flour sacks, dough, and trays of baked produce. Bakeries can be hot and noisy places to work and you will be on your feet most of the time.
There is substantial evidence that bakers have an increased risk of developing asthma as a result of their occupation. Flour and grain dust can cause the problem, and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) requires employers to take precautions in order to reduce the risk of asthma in the workplace.
Skin allergies may also be triggered by contact with ingredients used in the baking industry. If you are asthmatic or suffer from allergies, it may be worth seeking advice from your GP before embarking on a career as a baker. You can also find more information about asthma risks for bakers on the HSE website.
Personal protective equipment is worn by bakers, especially in large plant bakeries, in order to reduce the risk of dust inhalation.
No experience is required to become a baker, since training is provided on the job. However, previous experience and training will improve your chances of career progression and earning a higher salary.
By definition, craft bakeries tend to be small and independent (like Flour Power City Bakery), so there are no major employers, although there are bakery chains which emphasise quality and bake from scratch. These include Paul and Chatwins of Nantwich.
Prospects for promotion in baking are good. Most bakers in the UK are employed in plant bakeries and in-store bakeries, which tend to be large companies with good opportunities for career progression and a training and promotion structure.
You could move into bakery supervision or departmental management. Ambitious craft bakers in the restaurant business will have to work hard to get ahead - competition is fierce for chefs in general and breadmakers and pastry chefs are no exception.
There are excellent possibilities for entrepreneurs who combine baking skills with a head for business, but it is recommended that you have five to ten years of experience as a craft baker before setting up on your own.