Do you know that one of the Mail and Guardian’s top 200 2019 Young South Africans is a baker? Rifiloe Rantekoa is the founder of Borotho Bakery in Soweto. His bakery is known for selling bread at affordable prices to people in the community. It started in the backroom of his grandfather’s house and he now bakes around 500 loaves a day and employs five people.
Could you be interested in becoming a baker?
A baker is someone who works in a bakery. They bake and sell breads, cakes, pastries and other similar foods. Yum – this sounds like a tasty job!
Some of the qualities that a baker needs:
• Be a team player
• Able to read and write
• Willing to work unusual hours
• Be a person with good taste – literally!
• Able to do basic mathematics and follow a recipe
• Be slightly creative
• Be organised and observant
• Able to stand for long periods
• Good with your hands
• Able to work in a hot environment
• Able to do detailed work
Do you have the will to work hard and learn the art of bread and cake making? As Rantekoa says, “The hunger to make, to build, and to inspire is something that will remain long after our time has passed.” (Follow Rifiloe Rantekoa on Instagram: @Refiloe_rantekoo)
I was so inspired by the work of this young man that I decided to interview the owner of a local bakery, John, and his baker, Francine, to find out more about this interesting career choice.
I first spoke to John, the owner of the bakery.
Why do you run a bakery?
This is a family business but I’m a first-generation baker. For a year, I learnt the art of baking by working in various other bakeries in Cape Town. I now train all the bakers who work in my bakery.
Where do you find the people you teach to bake?
It’s work of mouth. I hear about someone and then interview them. I tend to keep my staff for a long time so I don’t need to do many interviews.
What skills are you looking for in someone you chose to employ?
They need to be able to read, write and speak English, especially as they need to follow recipes but other than that they don’t need any other qualifications.
What other qualities do you look for?
It’s good to employ young people as baking requires energy but they must also be driven by some interest, if not passion, and be willing to work hard. You do need to be dedicated to do this job and not be a clock watcher.
How long does it take for someone to learn to bake?
It varies as it depends on the person. You need to learn some theory and then go out and practice. It takes at least 3 months to learn the basics and to become a master baker takes years. There aren’t that many master bakers around but good baking skills are still in demand.
So, are there jobs in this field for young people?
Yes, there are jobs. There are large chains such as Shoprite and Pick ‘n Pay who need bakers as well as small businesses like mine. But you need to be willing to prove yourself and do an honest day’s work. Someone can start from nowhere and with the training and hard work you can pick yourself up, light a sparkplug and the sky’s your limit.
Has anyone you’ve trained gone on to bigger things?
Yes, one of my ex-bakers now runs three Shoprite’s in Angola. He still pops in to visit us and is interested in the place where he got his start.
Do bakers have to come to work extra early?
It depends on what you’re making. You may need to have an early start but you can prepare things the night before. Bakers often get up at 4am in order to start their day but then they would leave earlier.
After speaking to John, I spoke to Francine who works in confectionary (cake making) and baking.
Why did you become a baker?
Because I like baking. I was taught to bake here and have learnt a lot. Before this I was a domestic worker. I much prefer doing this.
What do you need to become a baker?
You don’t need any qualification but you do need to be prepared to learn. You need to be patient, cool and calm. You need to take everything easy because everything is needed now so you mustn’t panic.
Do you bake for anyone else?
(laughs) No, I just bake for myself. I’m tired by the time I come home and I still need to feed my family.
What time do you start in the morning?
I only start at 7am as I have grandchildren I need to take to the crèche.
Would you recommend becoming a baker to young people?
Yes, it’s a good job but it does depend on what you want. If you have nothing to do, learn to bake because you can earn a reasonable living from it. I can feed my family and I’m proud of what I do. Don’t be too choosy about what you do. If you work hard you can definitely get somewhere.
Like learning many trades, you have the option of working for other people or, once you have the necessary skill, be an entrepreneur and start your own business as Rantekoa did.
How do you learn the skills of baking in a more formal way? There are many different options. Here are a few:
Anchor Bakery Training Centre: (Johannesburg)
Offers many courses on bread making and other baking skills
Find out more
International Hotel School (Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban)
This offers a number of different courses including one on patisserie which involves working with pastry. The IHS also offers short online courses. It is possible to apply for a loan to study at the IHS but it is a private institution therefore there is no NSFAS funding.
Find out more
False Bay TVET college (Muizenberg)
This offers a one-year programme to become a professional in the food preparation industry. It focuses on food preparation, hygiene and safety and supervision. The admission requirements are Grade 12 or NC(V) Level 4. They also offer a variety of other hospitality courses. NSFAS funding would be available should you meet the course requirements and be accepted.
Find out more
Northlink College (Tygerberg)
Northlink offers 3 year courses on a variety of fields in the food preparation industry. You can train to be a Head Chef, a Chef de Partie, a Cook and a variety of other aspects in the cooking and baking field. The entry requirements are Grade 12 or equivalent and having Consumer Studies is an advantage. Northlink does have a financial policy in place for financial assistance as well as offering bursaries.
Find out more
There are also a huge range of cooking schools out there. Check out:
• Soweto Chef’s Academy
• Hope 4 Future
• Silwood School of Cookery
• Institute of Culinary Arts
• South African Chefs Academy
• Prue Leith Chef’s Academy
At the moment, the baking industry faces a shortage of skilled labour which means that becoming a baker might ensure that you have a good job at the end of the day. If you have the entry requirements, it may be easier to find work initially if you have completed a formal course but remember that learning on the job requires no qualifications, just a willingness to learn and to work hard.
Tell us: Do you enjoy baking or cooking? Do you think a career in a bakery could be one you’d like to follow?