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 their products on a massive scale. As a nation, we get through around 12 million loaves a day making the UK bread industry worth an estimated £3.5 billion. The nine members of the Federation of Bakers alone, with their 33 bakeries, bake and deliver 80% of our daily bread. Bakers in the UK fall into one of the following categories:
- Plant Bakers - work for bread factories, using machinery to produce bread products. They are responsible for supplying 80% of the UK's bread.
- In-store Bakers - these people produce bread and baked goods in a retail store, sometimes using pre-prepared or part-baked products from a factory. They produce bread using machinery but they are also likely to be trained in baking craft skills.
- Master/Craft Bakers - much more likely to bake from scratch and are usually employed by a small-scale, independent bakery or a restaurant kitchen. A craft baker may specialise in a certain type of bread or baking process and will offer specialist goods and services, such as patisserie and cake decoration.
SalaryTrainee 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.
ResponsibilitiesThe roles and responsibilities of a baker vary considerably depending on the type of bakery employing the individual. However, typical tasks include:
- Weighing and preparing ingredients;
- "Scratch bakery" (making bread from scratch with raw ingredients), using the four-stage process of mixing, proving, baking and cooling (today the process is usually mechanised but craft bakers may carry out the entire process by hand)
- Using machinery and technology in the bread-making process. Plant bakers use Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) to control the baking process and to set quantities, ingredients, oven temperatures, and cooling times.
- Part-baking and freezing produce (usually only in plant bakeries)
- Wrapping, slicing, and packaging bread products
- "Bake off" bread products, using part-baked frozen dough from a supplier
- Serve and prepare baked goods for customers
- Order raw ingredients and supplies
- Deliver bread products to local retailers and customers
QualificationsMany 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:
- Level 2 Diploma in Food Manufacture
- Certificate in Creative Techniques Level 1
- Certificate in Creative Techniques Level 2
- Certificate in Creative Techniques Level 3
- NVQ Level 1 Multi-Skilled Hospitality Services
- NVQ Level 2 Multi-Skilled Hospitality Services
SkillsThe following skills are important in the baking industry:
- Bakers are rarely well-paid and hours are long so a love of baking and dedication are needed
- Good scratch baking skills (making bread from raw ingredients)
- Teamwork and good communication are essential in any baking job
- The ability to cope (or preferably thrive) under pressure
- Working unsociable hours requires flexibility and stamina
- Good time management is important as tight deadlines are common
- Numeracy skills help with estimating and measuring quantities, weights, baking times, and temperatures
- Creativity, presentation skills, and attention to detail are especially important for craft bakers and pastry chefs
- Excellent customer service and people skills