Freson Bros. Apprenticeships Bring Baking Back

Jay Cummings remembers a time when bakers were trained in the art and science of baking. They were in high demand, paid well and excited about their career potential. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case today.

“People aren’t treating baking as an actual viable trade right now,” said Cummings, bakery director for Freson Bros., a 15-store chain of supermarkets in Alberta, Can. A baker for more than 15 years, he’s worried about the future of his trade and believes employee apprenticeship programs could be the way to a revival of baking as a career. “At the end of the day, if you don’t have skilled workers, you’re not going to have skilled products,” he said.

Cummings only joined Freson in October, but he initiated the apprenticeship program immediately to improve the company’s in-store bakeries and present baking as a respected career path at the company. “This is something I just started because I believe in long-term sustainability,” he said.

Brooks Sourdough

• On-the-job Training

Through the Alberta Industry Apprenticeship Program, companies like Freson Bros. agree to financially support bakers through the duration of their three-year apprenticeship. Companies also need a certified baker on staff who can oversee the apprentices’ training and testing. Apprentices have 10 months of on-the-job training and two months at a baking and pastry arts school every year for three years to complete the program. “They come out of it as a certified Red Seal baker,” he said. Red Seal is the Canadian standard of excellence for skilled trades.

Backed by the Alberta government, but employer driven, the program works because it trains apprentices who are already in the trade. Like many bakers in the industry, Cummings sees a disconnect between what is being trained in baking schools and the realities of working as a baker in the field. “The schools are putting out 18 and 19 year olds who have no clue about what we do in the bakery. So they come to the industry and walk away because it’s not representative of what they were taught in school,” he said. “Ninety five percent of apprentices come out and stay in the industry because they’ve had significant on-the-job training.”

• Positive Response

Freson Bros. currently has two apprentices participating in its program with eight more employees interested. The response from interested candidates outside the company has exploded. New resumes are coming in daily with people interested in a baking career.

He’s looking to get other Canada-based companies, like Canada Safeway, Sobeys, Save-On-Foods and Costco, to participate in the Alberta Industry Apprenticeship Program. “I encourage everybody to get on board,” Cummings said. “If we don’t support baking apprenticeship programs as a province, as a country, as a few countries, there will come a time when we want clean, properly-made bakery products, and we won’t be able to find bakers who can make them.”

He’s already putting his apprentice bakers to good work at Freson Bros. In February, the company will launch a new line of Old Fashioned Traditional Hearth Breads baked from scratch at store level. “At least at our in-store bakeries, I’m pushing that we’re using real ingredients, nothing artificial, and we’re doing it with real artisan bakers that are going to be trained in Alberta,” he said.

For more information: contact Jay Cummings at (780) 968-6924 ext. 258.

Freson Bros.’ Country Rye bread