Bakers Journal

Guest Editorial: Baking Education in Canada, Part 2

November 14, 2007
By Martin Barnett Malaspina University College Nanaimo B.C.

In last month’s Bakers Journal, I described how I perceived the baking
industry in Canada – that we are at a crossroads where some serious
decisions have to be made regarding how we serve our discerning,
educated consumers, and how we address the growing shortage of trained
staff in the traditional baking methods.

last month’s Bakers Journal, I described how I perceived the baking
industry in Canada – that we are at a crossroads where some serious
decisions have to be made regarding how we serve our discerning,
educated consumers, and how we address the growing shortage of trained
staff in the traditional baking methods.

Most provinces offer a limited one-year program for potential bakers at
the community college level. There are also various courses offered by
private colleges, and some institutions are offering –two-year diploma
programs. Right now, all the graduates from these programs get snapped
up by employees. There are never enough students to fill the jobs
available, and some large companies are advertising overseas for bakers.

As well as these courses, we have in Canada an Apprentice program. It is this program that I would like to address today.


The Canadian Interprovincial Standards Red Seal Program (also known as
the Red Seal program) was established more than 45 years ago to provide
greater ease for mobility of skilled workers throughout Canada. It also
provides a recognized trade qualification for workers in our
industries. This is a common practice in European countries and
recognizes apprentices who have worked a certain number of hours in
their industry and also been instructed in the basic skills of the
trade, under a trained journeyperson, and attained the required grades
in both the practical and theory sides of their chosen trade.

A comparison of the opportunities offered for our Baking Trade, interprovincially can be found at

Upon perusal of this chart the first thing that we notice is the
minimum hours required to attain the red seal. Out of the six provinces
and territories that offer apprentice accreditation (out of 13) three,
British Columbia, Northwest Territories and Yukon Territory are at
1,800. Prince Edward Island is at 2,000, Alberta at 5,400 and Ontario
is at a colossal 6,130 hours.

The other anomaly is the required amount of practical and theoretical
training in college in the different provinces. British Columbia has a
dismal 360 hours total over three years. Prince Edward Island has 450
hours of theory only. 720 hours for Alberta, Yukon and Northwest
Territories, and leading the way, Ontario at 890 hours.

This begs the obvious question, how can we have a national
accreditation for our baker apprentices when each province offers
different requirements for their training?

The Red Seal program publishes a booklet called the NOA (National Occupational Standard)

Within this publication is the minimum curriculum to pass the red seal
exam and obtain Canadian national qualification. It was revised last
year by an all-province committee hosted by Ontario.

Out of these curriculum guidelines a national exam question bank was
set. Again, a committee of interprovincial SMEs (subject matter
experts), were gathered in Ottawa to review and rewrite exam questions
for the national exam bank. The writer was one of the members of this
committee. I am bound by confidentiality regulations not to discuss the
questions themselves, but it is a very complicated and serious process.
20 of us struggled for a week over 150 questions, either constructing
new ones or revising or discarding ambiguous ones. A week seems a long
time, but we left without completing all of them. To construct an
unambiguous and fair exam question that tests the correct minutiae of
the curriculum takes a lot of mental wrestling and skill. Thank
goodness we had facilitators there!

One of the things that became apparent at this workshop was how
differently we do things in our baking industry in different parts of
the country. Although we were not there to discuss curriculum, in order
to complete some of the questions it was necessary delve into local
practices. A unique challenge for our trade, and one that is driven by
local taste and customs. For instance, do we use apricot or raspberry
jam in a Sacher Torte? Or when do we subtract the friction factor when
calculating water temperatures for yeast doughs? It depends on which
textbook one is studying from, (we do not have a national current
standard text right now). I’m sure the electricians do not haggle over
which colour wire goes where!

Unfortunately some of these practices have been entrenched for years
and any recommendations have been made on the provincial level by local
“Trade Advisory Committees.” This is why B.C. only allows its
apprentices 12 weeks of technical training and Ontario 26 weeks.
Obviously those members of the B.C. committee sat down 40 years ago and
decided that they couldn’t afford to let their workers go to school for
any longer.

Back then, there were plenty of classically trained bakers for
indentured apprentices to work under and learn the craft. Maybe it
wasn’t as necessary to spend as long at school to absorb the technical
skills and theory. Now we do not have the luxury of this old knowledge
and rely on trade schools to teach the skills.

Pass rates for the Baker Apprentice exam have been very poor all over
the country. In this chart, which is from the Red Seal CCDA annual
report, found online, we can see that the Baker Apprentice program is
poorly subscribed and with very low pass rates. In 2005, we only had 92
students, NATIONWIDE, attempt the exam and only 23 passed. These kinds
of results do not encourage new bakers to seek their formal apprentice

Comparison of Annual Baker Apprentices and Exam Pass Rates in Canada  
Year # of apprentices challenging Red Seal exam # of apprentices who passed Red Seal exam % success rate
2003 143 56 39
2004 112 38 34
2005 92 23 25
2006 100 32 32

Source: Red Seal CCDA Annual Reports

Some of the reasons that we have such low pass rates are that the
intellectual nature of the examination, which is theory only, does not
properly evaluate the baking apprentices. The best bread makers and the
most creative cake decorators may find it difficult to demonstrate
their knowledge in a written exam. Also, having such specialized shops
now means that not all bakers have enough exposure to all the
traditional skills (or they work in a large shop where they are just
working on one machine all shift).

A common complaint from exiting students after the exam is that there
are still many ambiguous and unanswerable questions in the exam bank.
(Hopefully we have rectified some of these.)

Finally, the exam only tests theory; it does not test practical
knowledge. I have witnessed many exceptionally skilled and talented
apprentices fail or barely pass their Red Seal exam. This does not
encourage more apprentices to enroll in the scheme and in some cases
affects their wages if they are not graduated.

My colleagues and I, in institutions, and businesses all over Canada
agree that there are a number of fundamental problems in the Red Seal
system for bakers. The way the federal and provincial governments work
on trades training is that they wish the direction to come from
industry itself. Bakers are notoriously bad for organizing in a
cohesive group and lobbying our governments. The Baking Association of
Canada does as much as it can, but again, the BAC doesn’t form policy
positions, it is just the voice of Canadian bakers. If we don’t tell
them what we need it cannot be our voice.

Meanwhile, we are so busy running around, understaffed, working six and
seven long days a week that we do not have time to work collectively on
our training issues. It is a vicious circle and one that needs a
national consolidated approach.

So what shall we do? I know that there are bakery owners who are
pulling their hair out without skilled staff, and it is understandable
that they may lean towards purchasing “ready to serve” or “bake and
serve” generic products. Meanwhile our discerning Canadian public are
demanding the best products, original and freshly made. If we do not
find a way to encourage more apprentices and train and evaluate them
properly we are doing our customers and our wonderful industry a

Footnote: After a long revamp and a few metamorphoses of the B.C.
Industry Training Branch, the ITA has contracted with Go2, an
organization formed to identify and implement training requirements in
the Culinary and Hospitality fields in British Columbia. Go2 has formed
a committee of stakeholders from bakery business owners, managers,
journeypeople and educators to guide this process. Hopefully with the
Baking Association of Canada we can offer suggestions to the National
Red Seal.

We would be interested to hear of any other provincial initiatives so
we can work together to make our Canadian bakers the best trained in
the world.

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