It’s more than 70 years since John Bell established a bakery in the picturesque Eden Valley village of Lazonby.
His family continues to preside over a thriving and award-winning business, producing cakes and artisan bread for retail and food service markets.
But ensuring here is a trained and engaged workforce in place is a very modern problem, which Bells must confront.
Philip Callaghan, Operations Director, said: “I was talking to a member of staff earlier, and he said, ‘In six weeks’ time I will have been here 50 years and will be near retirement’. Our bakery manager has been here for about 46 years.
“Baking is a skill, but if your workforce is ageing you have to take steps to make sure those skills are passed down.
“In the past you had the formal structure with City & Guilds that allowed that to progress formally, but when that stopped we didn’t then have any way of filling that gap because the NVQ system didn’t really cater for it.
“We tried a bit of NVQ training, but it was effectively watching people do things on the job and not giving you any knowledge.”
To address the problem, Bells has worked with Kendal College on custom-made programmes to teach the basics of bakery and encourage a new generation of employees to make a career with the company.
Philip said: “Initially, Kendal College got in touch with us about structuring a Bakery Apprenticeship programme that imparted proper knowledge of recipe balance, how to mix things and so on.
“It started at Level 2 and was so successful we have now developed a Level 3 programme. More importantly, perhaps, it has awakened people’s interest in how things work here at Bells. They no longer feel that they are just turning up, they want to be involved in the company.”
Around half of those who completed the Bakery Apprenticeship have moved into positions of responsibility.
Baking is a skill, but if your workforce is ageing you have to take steps to make sure those skills are passed down.
Earlier this year, and in conjunction with the College, Bells introduced Management Apprenticeship Programmes at Levels 2 and 3.
The aim is to introduce employees to the basics of management with specific emphasis on the company’s production systems.
This form of bespoke training is something that Kendal College has been involved in for the last 15 years.
However, in the last 18 months the College has seen a surge in interest from businesses such as Bells.
“It’s a similar story across all industry sectors,” said Suzanne Horner, the College’s work based learning and corporate client manager.
“Succession planning has become a key factor and businesses have identified the benefits of staff retention.
“The mindset is: we need to sell a career rather than a job. By working with businesses to identify their needs, we have been able to offer courses which make sense within the context of the business.”
In the case of Bells the system appears to be working smoothly.
However, one sticking point, as far as Philip Callaghan is concerned, is the reluctance of schools to embrace the apprentice programme.
“The disappointing thing from our point of view is that we have not been able to attract anybody at school leaver age to come in and start an apprenticeship programme,” he said.
Bells is far from alone in facing recruitment challenges.
The latest unemployment figures, published this week, show that the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance or the new Universal Credit in Cumbria fell to 5,280 last month, down from 5,325 in July.
In South Lakeland the proportion of the workforce claiming these benefits is only 0.6%, and in Eden it’s 0.7%. These are among the lowest in the UK.
For Cumbria as a whole, the claimant count rate is 1.8%, slightly below the national average which is 1.9%.
This is why the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub has launched the Profiting Through Skills campaign to help businesses upskill their workforce and train a new generation of apprentices.
Free training is available to Cumbrian businesses with fewer than 250 staff (full time equivalent). The scheme covers a full range of business activities from manufacturing to hospitality, farming to retail, hairdressing to digital services.
To take advantage of the free training on offer, call Cumbria Business Growth Hub on 0844 257 84 50.
A specialist adviser will carry out a review of your training needs and opportunities to identify where improved skills could help.
They pass the assessment to an experienced training provider, or providers, who contacts you to arrange training programmes funded through the scheme and elsewhere. Training is available for new and existing staff.
This support is available through the Employees Support in Skills project, launched last year. The project is funded by the European Social Fund via the Education & Skills Funding Agency and supported by Cumbria LEP.
Other partners in the project include Carlisle, Furness, Kendal and Lakes Colleges, the University of Cumbria, Newton Rigg, Gen2 and SP Training.
The need for Profiting Through Skills is underlined by a survey from the British Chambers of Commerce, published this week in partnership with Middlesex University London.
The annual Workforce Survey, based on responses from 1,400 businesses, reveals that 48% have faced skills or labour shortages in the last year.
Of these, most sought to address the shortages by increasing investment in recruitment (35%), training (31%) or pay and benefits (29%).
Only 8% targeted recruitment of non-UK nationals.
The Employee Support in Skills project is receiving up to £8.5m of funding from the European Social Fund (ESF) as part of the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme in England. The Department for Work and Pensions is the Managing Authority for the England ESF programme. Established by the European Union ESF funds help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, skills development, job creation, social inclusion and local community regenerations. For more information click here.