Bakers Journal

A baker’s Path

May 23, 2014
By Karen Barr

A recent phone call to the Ottawa apprenticeship office revealed that
they were willing to answer questions about obtaining the Red Seal for
baker-patissier, but they did not have an outline to send out.

A recent phone call to the Ottawa apprenticeship office revealed that they were willing to answer questions about obtaining the Red Seal for baker-patissier, but they did not have an outline to send out. This begs the questions: how does an aspiring apprentice even know the correct questions to ask? How can they navigate their way toward the Red Seal?

baking is a voluntary trade  
While baking is a voluntary trade that doesn’t mandate a designation to work, achieving a designation shows potential employers that the student has a certain level of experience.



First and foremost, this is a voluntary trade, which means it is not mandatory for a worker to obtain a designation to work in the industry. Obtaining the Red Seal does, however, show potential employers that the applicant has achieved a set of standards and skill set. Most provinces have a Red Seal program for baker, except for Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Ontario calls their Red Seal baker-patissier.


There are two main paths toward the Red Seal baker/baker-patissier. Both involve apprenticeship.

Jean Miller, employment and training consultant at the Hamilton apprenticeship office, describes it best: “It’s a style of training that focuses upon on-the-job-training and is complemented by in-school education.” After 25 years in her field, she says, “I really respect apprenticeship, because I’ve seen it work.”

 The distinguishing factors in these paths are the order in which the two components are pursued. The most recognizable route is by enrolling in a baking program at a culinary school/community college. Completion of Grade 12 is required. These are preparatory classes, with hands-on labs and theory classes, which help ready students find entry-level employment in the trade. The programs are one to two years in length and rounded out with elective courses. When employment is found, the apprenticeship can begin.

Aspiring bakers and pastry chefs who already work in the field can fast track themselves through a shorter school program done in blocks. The potential students must be registered as an apprentice and hold a high  school diploma.

There are two levels to the educational component within the baker/ baker-patissier apprenticeship. Level 1 teaches theory and basic techniques such as fermentation, pastry and cookies craft. Level 2 reaches forward into cakes and decorating. The blocks may be offered full or part time. Level 3 is optional. The 150-hour block features more advanced specialty work, such as chocolate and sugar work.

One of the pluses is that these classes are full of students who are already employed in the industry, offering a more advanced environment. Generally students enrolled in Level 1 already have a year or more of work experience. And here is an extra sweet treat—these apprenticeship classes are 80 per cent subsidized by the government.

For Ontario students who know what they love to do at an early age, there is the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program. With 16 high school credits already obtained, students in Grade 11 and 12, at the minimum age of sixteen, may enroll in this program. The high school places the student in a co-op within the field, and the student registers as an apprentice. Co-op hours count toward both high school credits and apprenticeship hours. Upon high school graduation, the apprentice has a step ahead in the work place and continues on with their apprenticeship, in one seamless transaction.

How does one register as an apprentice? Once an employee finds an employer to sponsor them, they need to contact the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. In Ontario, it is mandatory to become a member of the Ontario College of Trades within 90 days.

Sponsors agree to train apprentices, while they earn the income from working for the employer. The apprentices strive to learn as much as they can on-the-job. They also must complete the Training Standards manual. Currently 45-50 pages in length, it contains a set of competencies for the apprentice to achieve and have signed off by the sponsor. An employment and training consultant, from the local apprenticeship office, is available throughout the training process to provide guidance.

Once the Training Standards manual is complete, there are still other considerations. To write the Red Seal exam, 720 in-school hours must be obtained, including 150 hours of straight theory. There is also something referred to as benchmark hours. This simply means the number of industry hours required before writing the exam. This number is 6,130. An apprentice may claim 2,000 hours per year. However, this number is a gray area. Apprentices may be allowed to write the exam before the hours are met if they feel ready. An example of this is the early completion of the Training Standards manual. But, why rush this important part of training an development?

Tatiana Vorobej, a patissier who owned her own cake shop for over 15 years, has a great deal of experience training apprentices. In 2008, she won the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Apprenticeship Award. She offers her advice by saying, “The only way to hone your craft is through experience and time. You can’t fall short on either.”

Vorobej appeared on SLICE Network’s Cake Walk: Wedding Cake Challenge and won. She feels television is a valuable tool in promoting the industry, but cautions those interested in a baking career.

“Television shows only the artistry but not the time spent on the craft.” Her 30-minute spotlight on the television show was actually filmed over a period of three long, 14-hour days.

Many Red Seal bakers and patissiers suggest working for more than one employer during the length of an apprenticeship. Each has something different to teach. It is also advantageous to work within different divisions of the industry. Hotels, restaurants and catering companies all offer a depth of variety.

Now there is one final way of obtaining the Red Seal, and it is an exception to all of the above. This is by challenging the exam. One may write the exam if they have worked over 7,000 hours in the industry—without having completed the in-school component. Each set of rules has its exceptions.

For the icing on the cake, there are $2,000 completion grants for those who write and pass the Red Seal. The employer also receives a grant of $1,000.

Navigation involves paths, choices and decisions. Use this information to help you decide whether pursuing a Red Seal designation is right for you.

Karen Barr is a freelance arts and culture writer, as well as a Red Seal pastry chef.

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