Bakers Journal

Easing Labour Pains

August 29, 2014
By Martin Barnett

The Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) program and the lack of young
Canadians trained to work in the food industry has made plenty of news
headlines recently.

The Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) program and the lack of young Canadians trained to work in the food industry has made plenty of news headlines recently. As a trainer in the baking and pastry arts, I have had many conversations with bakery owners looking to fill qualified positions. A few have taken advantage of the advanced skills of non-Canadian tradespeople, and we have welcomed their talents to our shores.

The B.C. chapter of the BAC is in the process of getting a new Junior Affiliate Program off the ground to match mentees with mentors and improve baker training.


In decades past, the Canadian baking industry saw a shift from small and medium “scratch” bakeries, where everything was made on site by traditionally trained Red Seal journeyman and apprentice bakers to volume in-store and mega-industrial bakeries that use pre-made convenience products. We embraced the convenience 30 years ago, when many bakers were looking for ways to reduce hours and make the job a little easier.


Over the last few years, there has been a shift in consumer demand. A more discerning public is looking for fresher, less generic and more wholesome bread and pastries. This demand is being met by emerging specialty businesses, as well as “convenience” and mainstream bakeries that are now required to employ talented bakers that can perform more complicated tasks. In order to meet this new demand for old-fashioned baking, we need workers skilled in the traditional methods used to produce these staples and delicacies. On the one hand, we now have sophisticated machinery, ovens and refrigerators that can make a baker’s job so much easier. On the other hand, we need to train our staff, either in-house or in partnership with our trade colleges.

In response to these training needs, the government has identified the baking and pastry trade as an area to support through its Interprovincial Standards Red Seal Program. The Red Seal program has traditionally seen qualified journeymen and journeywomen indenture new apprentices. Yet, with the current shortage of qualified tradespeople to carry out this task, registering new trainees and navigating the paperwork has been difficult for employers. Colleges in Canada are successfully recruiting many students to the one-year Baker certificate and two-year diploma programs, and these students are filling the vacancies to some degree, but more must be done. We have had a number of discussions at the national and provincial levels on how to bolster the apprenticeship program to meet the gap in qualified tradespeople, while acknowledging that the typical, all-embracing “scratch bakery” has changed focus and does not have the journeypersons to fulfill indentureship demands.

new trainees  
Registering new trainees and navigating the paperwork has been difficult for employers. 


An interesting idea has been floated to involve mentors in the trade who can coach trainees in areas that are lacking in the shops where they are employed. One initiative being discussed would entail the local Baking Association of Canada (BAC) chapter signing up these mentees as junior affiliates, and then forming a network of participating members wishing to share their skills. These juniors would have their training enriched in order to complete their studies. An appropriately qualified baker and employer would then check their competencies and make a recommendation that the individual be awarded the Red Seal after completing the written exams and the work-based hours. The BAC’s B.C. chapter has been supported by the Industry Training Authority (ITA) through its human resources contractors, go2, who look after the hospitality trade’s training initiatives to explore this challenge.

As far as we can tell, there doesn’t seem to be any downside to this project. We inject the workforce with formally trained bakers, proudly holding their Red Seal certificates, and we have a potential influx of new, enthusiastic young members for the BAC who can move up the ranks and take the reins when the old guard, including this writer, gets put out to pasture. The cherry on the top of this idea is that once the work force is repopulated with qualified journeypersons who can indenture an adequate number of new trainees, the system can revert to its original structure.

The BAC at the national level has embraced the concept and supports the pilot project in B.C., which is now in the process of signing up affiliates and mentees. Information has been shared informally with BAC’s Ontario chapter, as they too wish to attract and train more bakers. Should anybody wish to sign up as an affiliate or mentor in B.C. or for more information, please contact the chapter chair, Gary Humphreys at

Martin Barnett is a program chair and professor in the professional baking and pastry arts program at Vancouver Island University. 

Print this page


Stories continue below