KBB training: ‘Stop the blind prejudice!’

Attempts to lay down a formal educational pathway for the KBB industry haven’t been easy. Previous approaches have lacked focus and the recent demise of the KBB NTG has left many doubting if a specific, Government-approved, training structure will ever get off the ground. But now two trade organisations – The Kitchen Education Trust (TKET) and the Furniture and Interiors Education, Skills and Training Alliance (Fiesta) – insist they’re making significant progress. Here, Fiesta chairman Gary Baker, managing director of CD UK, and TKET founders – Craig Matson, MD of Roundhouse, and kitchen designer Johnny Grey – answer the accusations of the wider industry and explain the reasons for their optimism…


Johnny Grey: That attitude really is a kind of blind prejudice against anything that will cost retailers money. That’s one of the problems. There’s also a misconception here.

We use the term kitchen design, but the [Bucks New Uni] degree course encompasses a whole range of skills. It’s almost like you could use ‘professional kitchen maker’ or ‘creator’.

There’s administration and marketing. You want serious management and serious skills to develop your business. We’re not just training box-placers, we’re training individuals to have a career in the kitchen industry.


Craig Matson: That’s fine and we’ve got ours. We are very process-driven and we have a manual. But we have to retrain them [staff] because they’ve got into everyone else’s bad habits.


Johnny: We’re slowly growing the status of the kitchen, but the results are still in front of us. My message to the industry is, if you think you can do better, come and take our jobs.

Craig: We need support. Don’t sit on the sidelines and criticise, get involved.

Gary Baker: We’re not perfect, but we’ve moved a long way and in the next year the evidence of that will start to come through.


Gary Baker: We’ve recently entered into an agreement with the Apprentice Management Group (AMG) and established Furniture and Interiors Skills Plus (FISP). This is a specialist apprentice recruitment agency. We have our own apprentice trainee agency (ATA) now. So the whole industry has access to supported, and 90%-funded, vocational training through the ATA.

Johnny Grey
Johnny Grey
kitchen designer and
TKET co-founder

The agency offers access to any form of vocational training across the industry – not just a specific apprenticeship course. We’ll be fixing up employers with training opportunities we’ve created and then helping to fund that opportunity. That’s a massive step forward for the industry as a whole. I signed the agreement in mid-June.

Craig: Just be aware, though, that the one biggest requirement for the retail kitchen industry is the technical assistant, and we haven’t got that approved yet by the Government. It should be approved in the next month.

Gary: The Government hasn’t been entirely joined-up in its approach. Effectively, all the Level 3 qualifications have to be reviewed and it’s not been an easy process.

Craig: There isn’t a pathway to accreditation at the moment, but we’re moving towards one. We’ve come from nowhere, so it takes a bit of time. It’s a bit disappointing how long it’s taken. It’s taken 12 months to figure out what the Government requires us to do.

Gary: The Government has these bodies that in their wisdom decide what needs to be on the course, and the industry feeds into that and has tended to disagree to a large extent. It’s been bashed back and forth. But we seem to be getting beyond that phase now.


Craig: Elitist? Yes and no. TKET was originally set up to support the University degree at Bucks, but its remit has widened considerably. We’re also looking at apprenticeships at schools. So we’re clear that the foundation degree is not the only route. But the biggest problem was getting quality at the top end.

Gary: Trevor Scott [of Rugby Fitted Kitchens] claims the degree is only relevant to people in the £60-90,000 market.

Unfortunately, there’s a perception that if you’re selling a cheaper kitchen, you don’t need a qualification and that’s complete nonsense.

We’ve got to move completely away from that attitude and make sure there’s room for anyone, whether that’s an NVQ or a degree. There’s a prejudice that we only do fancy kitchens and we’ve got to break that down.

Craig: Yes, I don’t agree with that comment from Trevor. I understand that they want a bang from their buck. But what I’m quite excited about is the idea that you can get apprenticeship degrees and that will take out the expense issue he’s referring to. But that’s some way off. We have to go through another process with the Government.

Gary: Essentially, it’s vocational training, not apprenticeships. The word apprenticeship has certain connotations. We’re opening up any training related to the workplace.

Johnny: I find some attitudes thoroughly objectionable. What sort of money do you want to pay for education, £1,000 a year? What do you want? A robot on the end of the internet? I mean, come on. Education costs money. At £5,000 a year, the design degree really isn’t expensive against a full residential course.


Craig: All people are seeing at the moment is the degree, without seeing what else we’re doing in the background. This is taking time, but to say nothing is happening is untrue.

Most of the people criticising the degree haven’t got a clue and are saying what they think without any knowledge. They should come to a weekend. Maybe it’s lack of marketing.

Gary: It’s protectionism and self-preservation. They fear that the brand and the equity they’ve built up over the years will be eroded, because their competition has access and skills that they didn’t have in the past. It’s very selfish to disrespect the widening of access to training in the industry.

Craig: This is not about people like Trevor Scott, it’s about the people you employ, the people who will replace you. If they don’t understand the complexity, then the business you’ve spent 30 years building up will disappear.


Craig Matson
Craig Matson
Roundhouse MD
and TKET co-founder


Craig: I would hope that in five years’ time we’ll have some penetration in the school market and have set up apprenticeships that are easily accessible and that the industry can understand – because, at the moment, that’s impossible.

And continue to grow the foundation degree so we have a pathway. From there, we need to spread horizontally with smaller learning elements that you can get awards for. But, at the moment, we’re going vertically – a pathway up.

Gary: If, in five years’ time, if we haven’t got a significant number of people coming into the industry we’ll be really disappointed. We’re not just hoping and mucking around.


Gary: Agreed, we’re not at the forefront of a kid’s mind as a potential industry to go into. That’s what Fiesta is starting to address. We’re looking to get into the schools and highlighting that there’s a design-led industry to get involved in.

Johnny: When we started five years ago, the Government pulled the plug on the careers advisory service for schools. When you ask to give a talk on kitchen design to the students in the design department, nobody’s interested. I’ve given up. We have a real problem here. It’s impossible to reach these groups.

But in theory the Fiesta programme is addressing the problems at the core level. The other problem is that until we get a sense of the kitchen being a good career option, it’s going to be hard. We’re starting right at the bottom.


Craig: It’s spreading now, but it’s not the easiest thing. It’s a dirty great ship that you’ve got to steer in a different direction

Gary: We’re representing the industry. Sometimes the KBSA is not seen as doing that. It does a good job but we’re looking specifically at education in the industry. We’re taking a neutral view. We’re wearing an education hat rather than a trade association. But we need its support to get this off the ground.

We’ve made some really good progress. Fiesta represents the first time that a trade association from across every sector has come together. As part of that, you’ve also got TKET and the KBSA and we did have the KBB NTG in there as well.

Johnny: There’s a lot of joined-up thinking going on here. I can’t think of a single industry that’s developing an educational programme in such an organised way as we are, and coming from absolutely nowhere.

Craig: Most courses crave the involvement of the industry. We’re coming from the other direction. It has to because we need it as an industry. The combination of in-work experience and education is very valuable, too. In most universities, you can’t get experience without the degree and vice versa. We offer both.

Gary Baker
Gary Baker
CD UK MD and
chairman of Fiesta


Johnny: The spark you need to get people engaged was missing. The aims and ambitions were good, but it just didn’t bear up.

Gary: It never got the whole industry behind it. But a lot of conversations came out of it, including TKET, so the work wasn’t wasted. We just need to take it on and get more of the industry on board with it.


Johnny: That’s a very valid point. We’re already in talks with various universities, particularly Northumbria University in Newcastle.

Johnny: The problem with [US trade association] the NKBA is it’s not a proper education in the way that we’re doing here. It’s incredibly bureaucratic.

Craig: We’re doing that level, but doing it through a recognised education system. The NKBA sounds a bit like the KBSA, where it’s doing its own accreditation. We’re trying to go down the architects’ route, where you have an independent, recognised, formal education system with different levels.

Other things feed into that, like courses that make part of the apprenticeship that you can do through interior designers.

Architects commit to a long, vocational course. Whether they end up designing social housing or for multimillion-pound developments is irrelevant. They train because it’s valid and worthwhile.

Gary: Look at the majority of US kitchens and you wonder why everyone has many years of training. The level of design and fabrication is so poor compared with what we have over here and in Europe. It’s grandmother’s kitchens, it’s disappointing stuff. So let’s get some certification going forward, but don’t use America as an example of everything that’s good, for heaven’s sake.

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