Another view - You would have to be half-baked not to realise what's going on

2nd July 2010 at 01:00
Let me say right at the outset that this column has nothing to do with further education. It's about bread.

The bread in question is made at a friendly neighbourhood bakery. To do this job they necessarily employ bakers. And when the company grows, they employ more of them.

There comes a point, though, when the company grows so large that making bread can't be left to the bakers any more. The bakery - indeed, the whole bread production and distribution process - needs managing.

But you know what it's like. Once you start with managers, it's hard to know where to stop. Because what you find is that you don't just need a manager or two to run the whole operation. Logic dictates that you slice the company up into its natural divisions.

So that gives you a manager for brown bread and one each for white bread and rolls. And after a while you're bound to find that you need a deputy for each of these new managers to cope with all the work that is generated by the new division system.

Then it's only a matter of time until someone points out that white and brown bread isn't the end of the story. White bread can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. No one wants to confuse their farmhouses with their cobs or their batches with their bloomers.

And with brown, how are you going to cope with granary and wholemeal unless you have a manager for each? Add in the rolls (crusty, soft and bridge) and there you have it: the neatest structure that man could devise. Three divisions, each with their own sub-divisions. Each with their own managers. And deputies.

Except that it's not long before someone points out that in many respects that structure is cumbersome. How often, for instance, does a soft roll speak to a crusty white sliced? So there is a good case - an excellent case - for cross-bakery co-ordinators to fill this vacuum. Obviously, these are skilled operatives who need to be paid at a level above (forgive the pun) your run of the mill baker.

And speaking of bakers, what exactly are they up to all day? Yes, bread is being produced, but how do we know they're not just sitting on their buns while the machines do the work? What is needed, the managers decide, is to set up an internal bakery observation scheme to keep the bakers on their toes. And to do this, they'll employ a team of ex-bakers (what some cynics start describing as "failed bakers") to run it.

The bakery is known for its good bread. But one day one of the managers is sitting in his bath and wonders, could the bread be better? In other words, have they been paying sufficient attention to the quality of the bread? As enlightened people, his colleagues don't take much persuading to set up a fourth division of the bakery, focusing exclusively on quality.

As they are setting it up from scratch, the new bread quality manager and his or her deputy will need at least two further deputy deputies to devise all the new paperwork that the bakers will have to complete to show that they really are making good bread.

Oh happy days! The loaves they churn out. But nothing lasts. Suddenly a new period of austerity hits. The demand for bread is still high - indeed, it has never been higher - but there isn't the money around to sustain the bakery operation in its current form.

A firm of consultants - experts, who all expect to be paid a lot of bread - are called in to oversee the "modernisation". Three months down the line, they make their recommendations. The workforce will have to be rationalised. Over the years it has become fat, bloated, distorted.

To correct this imbalance there is an obvious solution. And there is no alternative. Large numbers of bakers will have to be made redundant.

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