UK bakery sector faces ongoing skills shortage despite the nation’s love of baking

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Almost a third of Brits consider themselves expert bakers, but 67% say they would never consider a career in the baking industry. Pic: GettyImages
Almost a third of Brits consider themselves expert bakers, but 67% say they would never consider a career in the baking industry. Pic: GettyImages

Related tags labour shortage Bakery BakeAway Scottish Bakers Craft Bakers Association consumer research

Research by pastry and dough manufacturer BakeAway has revealed that Britain is a nation of bakers - with almost a third deeming themselves ‘experts’ - but there remains a marked lack of interest in taking it up as a profession.

The research - conducted on behalf of BakeAway by independent research consultancy 3Gem among 2,000 Brits - found that 53% have a passion for baking, but this isn’t translating into the workplace.

More than two thirds (67%) of UK adults state they would never consider a career in baking, despite 31% considering themselves to be an ‘expert baker’.

Even time-poor Brits regularly indulge their passion for baking, with 79% noting ingredients like ready-to-bake pastry has made baking more accessible than ever. Almost 60% of those surveyed admitted to resorting to quick tips and tricks to make the process more efficient.

TV shows like the ‘Great British Bake Off’ have contributed towards Britain’s love of baking – with the finale of the 2020 Series 11 attracting a record-breaking 9.2m viewers. The programme drew 63.5% of viewers between 16-34 years, the highest share of young viewers in 14 years.

The Great British Bake Off - now in its 13th​ year - is the ultimate battle to crown the UK’s Best Amateur Baker under the unnerving [blue] eyes of judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith.

Despite this shared passion among the cohort - which, if not already decided, is on the cusp of plotting out their future - 31% acknowledge there is a lack of public interest in the profession.

Struggling for skilled and experienced bakers

Bakery apprenticeships andresr
Pic: GettyImages

It’s no secret within the food industry that there is a severe skills shortage, with just about every branch of the bakery industry reporting a struggle to fill vacancies in all job roles and grades.

According to Alasdair Smith, former CEO of Scottish Bakers,​ the workforce-wide exodus was compounded by the pandemic.

“We saw a raft of skilled workers leave us during the Covid-19 pandemic for life-choice career switches to generate a better work-life balance or for salary increases, leaving the sector struggling for skilled and experienced bakers,”​ said Smith.

“It's eased off a little bit from the period 12 to 18 months ago – reflected in our apprentice numbers this year already - but there are challenges in recruitment and retention.

“It’s something that a lot of our members are trying to make their businesses a more attractive place to work … offering not just a good wage, but other benefits and non-financial incentives like extra leave: anything that will make them the employer of choice.

“Of course, training is a big part of that, but the bottom line is there are still not enough people in the pool of potential workers.”

Scottish Bakers is a major independent provider of apprenticeships to Scotland’s food and drink manufacturing industry, delivering industry-standard training through its specialist training arm, National Food and Drink Training (NFDT).

Karen Dear, recently appointed CEO of Craft Bakers Association,​ concurs, noting it’s been a theme within the sector for a long time.

“A lot of industries are having struggles with labour and we can't really see an end to it at the moment, but, as an association, we work closely with bakery colleges up and down the country.”

She said there is a new generation of bakers who want to be involved in the industry, and the CBA provides training for staff, along with a service for members to advertise vacancies on its website.

Unaware of the status quo

Career decsions Getty
Pic: GettyImages

Bakeaway’s survey, however, found just one in five (21%) UK adults is aware of the current situation.

When quizzed on their industry knowledge, 69% acknowledged the baking industry is a rich and heritage-filled sector. That said, 29% believe this is being overlooked due to a lack of understanding about the diverse range of roles available.

“From providing a healthy outlet for stress, to bringing friends and families together - there is no doubt that as a nation, we enjoy donning an apron and crafting culinary creations in the kitchen,”​ said Jennie Bosson, BakeAway marketing manager.

“Baking has seen a huge surge in recent times, and the demand has never been higher for skilled bakers to join the industry.”

BakeAway’s research also uncovered what perspective candidates believe the bakery industry should be doing to encourage more interest and turn hobby bakers into future employees:

  1. Better pay (54%), albeit a moot point at the moment
  2. Greater opportunities for career development (44%)
  3. More job benefits and career perks (43%)
  4. An increased focus on promoting job openings (42%)
  5. More industry profiling of successful workers (28%)

“We hope that the release of this research will contribute towards a step change in the perception of baking as a career,”​ added Bosson.

Corby-based BakeAway - which was acquired by the Cérélia Group in 2016 - is currently recruiting for a range of roles, from Sales to Production operatives. The company produces private label products (puff pastry, shortcrust pastry, cookie dough, pizza dough and chilled and frozen pancakes) for the retail channel across the UK.

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