The UK has revamped apprenticeship requirements for the bakery sector in a bid to attract more people into the workforce.
The new requirements, which come into effect this month, cut down the hours apprentices spend in the classroom, while increasing the amount of practical skills they receive.
Improve, the government-funded agency charged with skills training for the food and drink sectors, cited an aging workforce plus a shortage of skills as a problem in the bakery sector.
About 25 per cent of bakery companies reported they had either hard-to-fill or skills-shortage vacancies, according to a national survey published in 2004.
The main revision has been made to the advanced apprenticeship, which takes two years to complete and delivers a bakery national vocational qualification at level three. A technical certificate, introduced in January 2004, has been dropped from the apprenticeship programme.
By making the revisions Improve hopes to attract at least 35 per cent more apprentices to the standard one-year scheme, and to reverse the decline in young people tackling the advanced two-year apprenticeship.
"We have consulted employers and made changes to the apprenticeships in keeping with their recommendations," said Teresa Brookes, Improve's learning frameworks manager. "As in most food-and-drink sectors, bakery suffers from hard-to-fill vacancies, skills gaps and an aging workforce, with the majority of employees aged over 35. We see these revised apprenticeships as the ideal vehicle to bring more young people into the industry to help address these problems."
The UK's food and drink industry has one of the most poorly qualified workforces in the country, according to Improve. About 19 per cent of the sector's workforce has no qualifications, compared to the average of 11 per cent for the total UK workforce. One-third of staff in the processing sector have no qualifications at all.
The UK'S food and drink manufacturing sector employs somewhere between 500,000 and 900,000 staff, or about 1.6 per cent f the total UK workforce.
There were about 2,000 bakery enterprises in the UK in 2004, according to government figures. The industry has an integrated manufacturing, distribution, wholesaling, retailing approach.
Improve was established in July 2004 by the Skills for Business Network and is sponsored by the UK's department for learning and skills.