The Great Australian Baking Skills Scam

The Great Australian Baking Skills Scam

This is a comprehensive article, Australian Baking there is so much more I want to say, and it’s not the first time I have raised concerns or addressed this issue. But if you are as disturbed as I am with the declining skills of bakers and pastry cooks and chefs in this country, read on. I am going to give you information that has never been made this openly available as to what and who is responsible.

We have at this moment in time the lowest level of industry skill in recorded history of Australian Baking. Bakers and pastry cooks and chefs have certificates, yet do not understand the basic fundamentals of bread baking or pastry production, ingredient functionality, or basic fault detection. We have many businesses that have been searching for two years to fill positions that require a qualified person to work unassisted but can’t, so they have existing bakers working six and seven days a week to cover shifts. The ones they can find can’t work without supervision, or can’t plan and control production. It is affecting business confidence, which directly impacts growth and future job opportunities. It also drives the greater need for frozen, par-baked, and premix products, and the investment in automated equipment at the smaller end of the business scale, all which remove the need for skill, and take away the opportunity for an identifiable point of difference – the one thing every business needs to set itself apart from its competition.

Contributing to this scenario is the fact we also have money being pulled continually from Registered Training Organisation (RTO) budgets, giving teachers less time to teach. This forces more information to be removed in order to meet the time constraints. Recently in one state, bread baking modules were halved. How can this do anything other than reduce the level of knowledge delivered?

In fact, if I go back a little further I can tell you that in 1985 if you wanted a dual-trade qualification of baker and pastry cook you needed eight years, plus 28 weeks at a TAFE facility. That same level of qualification today is, in some states at least, a total of 12 days at an RTO plus as little as one year total apprenticeship time. That’s eight years down to one year, and 28 weeks or 140 days down to 12 days – and we wonder why we now have a problem!

We have reached a point whereby this present Certificate 3 qualification is simply a joke. It has absolutely no value whatsoever. Most employers will tell you they don’t even ask for it anymore, and many apprentices will tell you that they don’t feel the formal study component of their training offers much value. Retention of information due to the multiple choice examinations and copy and paste style of delivery is almost non existent.

So, how has this actually happened and who is to blame for this tragic mess we now find ourselves in? Let me enlighten you. We are!

We, the Australian baking industry are 100 percent at fault for the situation we now find with the declining skill and knowledge of Australian bakers. Most are not aware of this, but there are many who are, particularly those in positions of responsibility, within past and present industry bodies.

All we had to do was understand our responsibilities, understand the process of development and approval of our Industry Training Package, do sufficient industry consultation, and appropriately communicate with, and assess RTO delivery processes and capabilities, to ensure an industry appropriate minimum skill development was achieved. This unfortunately didn’t happen, and when concerns were raised, they fell on deaf ears.

For a long time now I’ve had so many people say to me that they believe it is all the fault of RTOs, such as TAFE, or in more recent times one of many privately operated training companies. I myself thought this same thing at one point because I was led to believe it was true, but, I failed to do my own research and understand how the training package development process actually works.

After further investigation I can tell you these statements regarding RTO delivery are actually correct. That’s right – our RTOs are not delivering the level of training the Australian Baking industry needs, but, all is not as it seems – there is a rather large slight of hand at play here. We are being told to look one way while the other hand hides the evidence, and we miss the real story of what is actually going on. It’s an easy mistake, and it has created an even easier scapegoat, one that seems to fit perfectly, and allow us to lay blame so we can feel more comfortable with ourselves, because we all feel better if we can find someone, or something to blame for our own failings – particularly one that can’t fight back.

Importantly, you need to understand RTOs don’t develop the training package, their only role is to deliver what the training package guides them to do. They develop their resources based on this, so if the package doesn’t demand and ensure quality, you cannot expect a quality outcome at a delivery level.

The best way to think about this training package is to view it like an operations manual for a business. It sets out all the guidelines, requirements, rules, regulations, and expected outcomes for the business, or in this case, the delivery of training and its required learning outcomes to apprentices.

The training package for many years, up until earlier this year, has been developed by a company called Agri-Food Skills, it was a federally funded organisation, tasked with developing the training packages in consultation with industry for apprenticeships in retail Australian Baking.

Once the training package is developed, it is sent to a technical review committee, and once evaluated it goes to the industry representative bodies be assessed. It is also supposed to be sent out to as many areas of the industry for feedback as possible. This way, we should be able to take into consideration the needs of all sectors and try and suggest any necessary adjustments for Agri-Food Skills. No training package is ever approved for release without the sign-off of our major industry associations. They are the final stage of the process, the goal keeper or the final line of defense if you will.

Now this all sounds like a very good system, but, like all systems it is only truly successful if it is utilised correctly, and everyone in the process does their part properly.

The first time I became aware of this was in 2010, when I was asked by Agri-Food Skills to assess the new training package that was due to be released. After being sent an overview, I requested to view the whole training package so that I could clearly see and understand the required learning outcomes. To my surprise I was told I was the only person to request this, and that no one else had asked for it. It was very obvious to me upon viewing the proposed training package there was a lot wrong. In fact, it was not going to do anything to solve the problems that existed at that time, but was going to significantly speed up the loss of skills and knowledge.

I made a number of calls, and had email communication on this matter with our industry association representitives. I was very vocal, I pleaded with them not to sign off and approve that training package, but instead take the opportunity to change it so training outcomes could be improved. Unfortunately, and as history now clearly shows, my pleas fell on deaf ears. Since 2010, now some six years later, there have been at least two more updates, again on these occasions I was vocal and made it clear as industry representatives we had an obligation to ensure the training package was going to deliver improvements in the declining training outcomes. Unfortunately, once again it was allowed to go through and approved as being in line with industry requirements.

The other thing I can let you know is that since 2003, there has been very little change to the over riding base structure of the current Training Package. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in business continually during that time, and we have had possibly the largest change to consumer demand, expectations, and requirements since the introduction of the no time dough system and sliced bread. We have had increasing demand for products like artisan breads, preferment-based bread styles, and many new ethnic bread requirements. We have seen the biggest change in demand for pastry and patisserie, including Vennoiserie and sweet yeast items more than at any other time in our history. These are all products that require increased skill and knowledge, yet at the same time it was deemed okay for sweet yeast to become an elective as part of your apprenticeship!

It is incomprehensible to me such decisions could actually be deemed appropriate if sufficient research and industry consultation took place.

The reason the training package allows this to happen is because it is too loose. It is out of date and out of touch with industry needs. It is written in a way that allows for it to be delivered anywhere, and to any apprentice, in just about any situation.

In theory this is great because it provides flexibility to do things like flexible workplace delivery, however, it is also the thing that sees apprentices from franchises, in-store bakeries, and plant bakeries receive the same qualification as those from businesses where a higher level of practical skill and knowledge is required. It is more importantly the thing that is allowing governments to cut TAFE budgets, and TAFE and other RTOs to reduce student contact hours, so as to make it more affordable to deliver. At the end of the day, they are a business, and faced with the harsh realities of staying competitive, they have no option but to make adjustments that create the ability to ensure competitiveness. Unfortunately, this model is not a model based on a quality competitive advantage, but rather a financial competitive advantage. This inevitably drives down quality through a focus on cutting content to remain profitable.

Do you realise under the present training package it is actually possible to deliver Certificate 3 bread training with the only inclusion being white bread? This means no meals, grains, ryes, or sweet yeast goods are taught, and it is also possible to bring in any number of other subjects from other Certificate 3 Training Packages that may actually have nothing to do with baking, and it’s all legal and possible if the RTO really wants to save money.

While it is really bad at present, it could actually be a lot worse. We are lucky many of our TAFE institutions and some private RTO’s still contain enough people with integrity and professionalism to stand up for what they believe in, and still try to deliver quality Australian Baking education. But, it’s getting harder by the week and many by their own admission don’t believe what they are now able to offer constitutes quality training outcomes. There simply isn’t sufficient time and they aren’t magicians!

We can’t change the past, we can only influence the future. So, now is our chance to actually do something. Earlier this year the contract with Agri-Food Skills was terminated as for the first time, we were able to get enough people to understand what has been going on. Through resistance to the proposed changes, which would have been catastrophic to the baking industry, the development of the next training package was halted. The government has now contracted a new company called Skills Impact to liaise with the Australian Baking industry in an attempt to get the next training package through. I have been able to get involved at the technical review level to try and work with other industry representatives in order to identify the issues, and make changes to hopefully begin to turn things around.

But I need your help!

Please, on behalf of the Australian baking industry and our current and future apprentices, if you feel the same way I do, then it’s time to do something about it. Have your say and pass this article on to as many people as you can. We need feedback. Take 20 minutes from your week and tell us the issues you face in your business with apprenticeship training, and, with finding suitably skilled qualified bakers and pastry cooks. Send them to me, – I will make sure you are heard.

I would also say this: now you are aware, and have been given the opportunity to help support change and you choose not to, then you lose your right to complain.

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