VCC Bakers Obtain their Red Seal - and a Possible Raise

As originally posted in The Georgia Straight

Anyone who has watched The Great British Baking Show knows how difficult it is to create complicated layer cakes filled with a multitude of ingredients. And that’s one reason why the Industry Training Authority B.C. includes bakers in its Red Seal certification program for skilled trades.

Those interested in pursuing a career as a baker can become licensed by going through the three-level baking-and-pastry-arts apprentice program at Vancouver Community College.

According to VCC instruc­tor Esther Kosa, people who want to become Red Seal bakers must first register with the ITA and obtain a trade worker’s identification number. This sticks with the person for the rest of their life.

Graduates of an ITA–approved training program, such as the one at VCC, can apply for credit toward meeting the technical requirements. Kosa explained to the Straight over the phone that those in VCC’s 11-month baking program take their apprentice level one exam at the end. If they pass, VCC instructors suggest they go out and find a job before taking the next step toward becoming a Red Seal baker.

That’s because they need a sponsor (often an employer) to be admitted into the level two apprentice course.

“After doing that, then they would go back out, work for another year and get more experience, and then come back for level three,” Kosa said.

The ITA requires that Red Seal bakers possess a specified set of skills, which are taught by VCC in each stage of its apprentice program. At the first level, students learn how to make basic pies, cookies, pastries, and bread. It is offered every January. They must also be capable of basic cake-decorating.

At the second level, which is offered in February, students are challenged to create more elaborate baked goods. “Perhaps they’ll make different types of pie,” Kosa said. “Instead of a blueberry pie, they would go with a chiffon pie or a cream pie. Basically, we require a little bit more understanding and a different method of making different types of pie.”

Level two students are also challenged to temper chocolate and might be asked to make more advanced mousse cakes. They’re also required to make wedding cakes.

“Level three will concentrate more on the advanced side of things—ice creams, more advanced wedding cakes, and more in-depth chocolate stuff,” Kosa revealed.

Students work in VCC’s food labs, which have a deck oven, a convection oven, and, in some cases, a rack oven that rotates fully. Kosa said that each lab also has long wooden tables, which each accommodate two students. The school can take up to 18 apprentices in each program.

One of the differences between the apprentice program and The Great British Baking Show is the equipment. Some of it is much larger at VCC—including a 75-litre mixer—than anyone will ever see on the TV show.

“We teach the students how to do individual stuff as well as larger production stuff,” Kosa said. “That’s so they’re not surprised when they go out in the industry.”

She pointed out that Red Seal bakers can receive higher pay, depending on where they’re employed. And this certification has potential to open up opportunities to work in the hospitality sector, particularly in hotels.

“I believe that in our city, there are very talented people who are willing to teach,” she stated.

She added that sometimes having a trade certification can lead to jobs in other countries.

“One of our instructors used to work for Fairmont and she was able to go to Scotland and work there for a while,” Kosa said. “It does open up a lot of ways to travel if people put their time and effort into learning.”