For the past five years, qualified baker Bex Savage has been managing the well-known Dunsandel Store, a café on the rural town’s main highway. It’s a traditional old-school café serving breakfast and lunch, and offering cabinets full of sweet and savoury delights. As well as managing the day-to-day running of the café, Bex is its sole baker and says her cabinet full of slices, biscuits, muffins and cakes “just like your grandmother would bake” brings her the most joy.
Bex embarked on a Competenz Craft Baking apprenticeship when she was 18, completing it and qualifying three years later. Bex says enrolling in an apprenticeship was the best decision she ever made and it’s set her up for life.
“Having the chance to earn a full-time wage while I was still learning the art of the trade through an apprenticeship was the absolute best decision. I was a fully qualified baker at the age of 21 and had no student debt! So while my high school peers were living a broke student life at university, I was debt-free and earning a good wage. So good that I was able to buy my first home at the age of 22.”
Together with her partner, Bex has just built her second home. “If I had a student loan hanging over my head I highly doubt I would be living in my own brand-new home at 27!” she says.
You can’t miss Bex at the Dunsandel store – she’s the one covered almost head to toe in tattoos. Her body is a canvas of colourful works, many of which are dedicated to baking. One of her arm sleeves features cupcakes and donuts; her hands boast ‘cake’ and ‘bake’ in flourishing calligraphy; and on her stomach is inked ‘vie au four’, translated as ‘baked life’ or ‘life in the oven’.
‘Vie au four’ has taken on a new meaning for Bex, whose first child (or ‘bun in the oven’ as she calls it) is due later in 2021. “After I finished my apprenticeship I did an online bookkeeping course to help me towards my dream of opening my own bakery. It’s still the plan, but not right now. I never thought this workaholic would slow down, but I’m really looking forward to this next chapter of my journey and hopefully producing the next generation of bakers!”
Bex says the places you can go after completing a baking apprenticeship are “endless”.
“I have worked in a small craft bakery, a supermarket bakery, a large factory bakery and now a small café, where I bake and also cook. Becoming a baker has opened doors to a whole world of opportunities. A bakery apprenticeship is great because it teaches you so much more than just baking; you learn about the food industry, you make lifelong friends and it teaches you about other paths you can travel if you don't want to be baking your whole life. It can lead you to all sorts of other things too like presenting a baking show or writing a cook book. You just have to be a go-getter.”
While she has qualified as a baker, Bex “highly recommends” apprenticeships of every kind.
“Apprenticeships give you a great foundation in life. You have stable job that is exciting every day as you learn the trade, plus you get paid for it. Earning and learning is the perfect set up for someone who may not want a big fancy degree, which was me to a ‘T’. It brings stability to your life, all the while knowing that you are working towards great things while getting rewarded for doing so. I would 110% do it again, and it is something I will be making my children aware of when they are too trying to plan their adult life. It’s a no brainer.”
A training initiative implemented by a central North Island iwi trust is taking rangatahi (youth) to new heights, three years since its launch.
Aotearoa has reached a significant milestone, with 50,000 trade apprentices having passed through the Apprenticeship Boost programme since 2020.