Much has been written and spoken about a crisis in bakery education as witnessed by the decline in the number of colleges offering courses in baking. This is linked to a shortage of skilled bakers and often doomsday predictions about the future of our industry.The decline of traditional bakery education is, however, symptomatic of a larger problem, which is our failure to attract enough young people to join the industry in any position, not just practical baking, and also the failure to deliver training that totally suits the needs of employers. This has led to individual employers, large and small, either setting up or taking part in a large number of different work-based training schemes, which may or may not give the trainee an accredited qualification.All this is set against a changing national background (see opposite). How these targets are to be achieved in practice is currently being worked through and it is in this area that I feel, as an industry, we have to speak with one voice or lose out.Who is going to be influencing the provision of food manufacturing – and specifically bakery – as vocational courses for 14- to 19- year-olds? Who is going to ensure that there are workplace-based accredited training schemes delivering the employee skills that we need? And who is going to ensure that there are training providers and assessors out there actually providing what employees need?The alternative to finding a solution that represents the needs of the baking industry to policy-makers is that we continue as we are – simply talking about the problem. I, for one, hope that the needs of different sections of our industry are not too complex to make a united industry approach to dealing with our sector skills council Improve, the LSC and, if necessary, government.The central principle of the Leitch report is that skills training is led by employers and trainees. This is where Improve comes in – they should determine and satisfy demand, but they can only do so if we, in our industry, tell them what we want.Forming The National Skills Academy for Bakery would help establish the bakery sector’s training needs and act as a hub for the provision of training to meet those needs – for, in all this, the issue is not qualifications, it is the provision of relevant skills training.That provision can be:l college-based and college-led, with college staff operating in the workplace;l workplace training by in-house experts or other external providers;l distance learning in whatever format, including web-based modules and links to schools ±providing vocational courses.If, as an industry, we are to speak with one voice, then the establishment of a centre of bakery excellence as the hub of all training provision is essential. Make your voice heardOver the coming months, we are keen for you to voice your views on what you think The National Skills Academy for Bakery should be for. This is the legislative backdrop, against which the baking industry needs to spring into action. The Leitch reportPublished in December 2006, Lord Leitch’s report is the policy driver on skills and is setting the agenda within the workplace and within colleges and schools. It comes with exacting targets and the threat of introducing a training levy if employers do not embrace the need to increase skills and make significant progress to the targets identified.Government investment in training for adults in England stands at £3 billion. But the report warns: “In order to realise the potential of every citizen we will need to see investment of many times that amount in new skills training and that cannot and should not all come from the government. Between now and 2020, employers and individuals will need to make a sustained and increased investment in improving their respective skill levels.”Leitch is an England-only policy, but it is likely the direction will be followed in all the other UK nations.UK targets include:* Becoming a ’world-leader’ in skills by 2020* 95% of all adults in work to have functional literacy and numeracy skills – this is currently just 76%* 90% of all adults to be at level 2, equivalent to five GCSE passes (now at 52%)* 40% of all adults at level 4 or above, foundation degree standard (10% at present)* 500,000 apprenticeships each year (a doubling of the current number); within bakery there were 96 apprenticeships in the last 12 monthsThe Government will use the following mechanisms to deliver these targets:* Employers are being asked to sign a skills pledge in which the CEO pledges to develop an action plan to deliver increased economically viable skills* ’World-class’ will be measured by the number of adults achieving full qualifications* The route to access this training/funding in England will be through the Train to Gain service, which will be extended to deliver training at levels 3 (A-level passes) and 4* The employers’ voice will be channelled through Improve, the sector skills council (SSC)* The SSC will highlight ’economically valuable’ skills and will have the authority to decide which training courses are eligible for government funding.So the Leitch report and Improve aim to give employers and trainers the route to develop and deliver the required skills. But it also gives the government the mechanism to impose levies, in terms of money or time, if they believe the above targets cannot be met voluntarily.