Getting the best from a baking apprenticeship


01 October 2015

As a former baking apprentice himself, Kevin Gilbert, owner of Dunedin specialty bakery Gilbert’s Fine Food with his wife Esther, remembers what it’s like to be learning on-the-job. It’s that understanding that helps him get his apprentices off to a good start and, despite the small size of his business, offer them varied work and career opportunities.

“When you’re starting out, you need to begin with something simple and feel you’re achieving from week one,” says Kevin. “So we take it gently early on. Here’s a task – make the ciabatta. Then we’ll get you onto another task. It’s about building confidence and ownership in our apprentices.”

Kevin sees training as much more than just ticking off unit standards. “Apprentices need to understand the ‘why’ as well as the ‘how’. It’s one thing to be able to make baked goods. It’s another to understand why something works, like the laminating process where we alternate dough and butter. But if you understand the science you can fix things if they go wrong. And that’s a valuable skill.”

As a small employer, Kevin is unable to provide some of the structure, like formal career paths, available in larger companies. But he says there are “always other ways to do things”.

“We can still give our people opportunities to keep building their skills and experience. For example, I get my more qualified people to supervise others, so they gain coaching skills. And I involve my team in business activities like food costing and budgeting to round out their technical baking skills.”

What is the key to getting people through? “Support on-the-job.” Kevin says this can be as simple as talking to apprentices to find out how they’re going and asking regular questions to test their learning.

Support from Competenz account manager Tony Gunby is important too. “Tony visits regularly. I leave my apprentices to talk to him in private in case it’s the boss – me – they want to talk about. But I always catch up with him after.”

It’s an approach that is working for Gilbert’s. Kevin and Esther have built up a loyal team of employees. And they’re looking forward to helping apprentice Kieran Mackenzie celebrate completing his apprenticeship in a few months’ time.

Competenz is a business division of Te Pūkenga Work Based Learning Limited. Learn More

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