The government pays for barista training; almost no one takes advantage


By Ben Szobody

Tradespeople always knew: If you wanted skilled labour, you trained them yourself.

For decades, the government has offered to sweeten the deal: Train them yourself, let the state pay.

Ultimately, colleges and trade schools filled the void and maker industries had a worker stream, of sorts. Employers partly got to control how welding was taught and taxpayers funded the education.

This system may not rise to the level of full-blown talent development, but it does transfer skills.

By these lights, it’s easy to see just how infant the speciality coffee industry still is: Cafes require escalating expertise but mostly train in house — if they can afford it. Those who can’t poach staff from elsewhere, and a very limited quantity of skilled baristas (or roasters, or managers) circulates through a booming number of coffee businesses.

The government is still offering to pay, however, and coffee companies are mostly failing to take advantage. Meanwhile, Brighton’s Pro Baristas project is piloting several strands of high-level training that (a) open pathways to vulnerable people, (b) layer on mentorship, maths and personal development, and (c) help coffee businesses invest in the people around them.

It’s an attempt to create a sustainable work force more likely to stick around for long-term careers while finding potential employees who would wouldn’t normally get the chance. Think “Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen” for coffee.

Here’s how it works:

Intensive apprenticeships

The old apprenticeship scheme still makes sense — if you can control how training is done. Apprenticeships last for a year (!) so Pro Baristas essentially tore up the industry standard barista training curriculum that condenses loads of knowledge into one- or two-day courses. Instead, Brighton AST Laura Lumsden wrote an 12-month apprenticeship curriculum that starts with portafilter handles, stops at roasting and trade models along the way and ends after learners have earned five SCAE certificates over the course of a year, including the Barista Professional award.

The government pays for all of it, and even offers small cafes (fewer than 50 employees) £1,500 just to take on an apprentice. Pro Baristas adds personal mentorship, a local college offers maths and English for those lacking GCSEs and work placements tend to become careers. Graduates so far are linked to Taylor St Baristas in London, Small Batch Coffee in Brighton, Nelson Coffee in Eastbourne and others.

Less intense traineeships

A year is a long time, and presents some risk to learners and cafes. Traineeships cover a shorter term (three months), offer a ramp up to full-time employment and a way into apprenticeships for both dies. The government pays for this too, and Pro Baristas is developing this track with the social enterprise Well Grounded in East London.

SCAE training+

Not everyone qualifies for the above schemes, which are aimed squarely at unemployed young people. So Pro Baristas has also tinkered with the standard Barista Foundations course with the aim of making it a highly focussed way to get a job. Instead of lasting for a single day, the course covers three or four days for better retention and is offered affordably to people who are job hunting. Practice sessions are unlimited, and those who pass then get access to three services: A coffee C.V. makeover session, live experience on a bustling pop-up coffee bar and links to local job openings.

Life skills

Still, loads of young people fall outside these channels or lack the basic confidence to go for full employment. One Church Brighton, the charity behind Pro Baristas, aims primarily to engage overlooked and vulnerable people. What to do?

Recent experiments have led to a new kind of drop-in where coffee is effectively the storefront. Behind the counter, the aim is coaching, advice and the “soft skills” required for employment.

Amidst an epidemic of anxiety and insecurity among the UK’s unemployed young people, this is a coffee drop-in where you can learn some things about tasty espresso but also find your personal footing. In2work, a Lottery-funded scheme, and Republic, a new social enterprise founded by a former apprentice, run the sessions. Experts in these crucial employability skills (like teamwork and timeliness) are also developing curriculum to go with every course offered by Pro Baristas.


Moving forward, the charity project is looking to set up mobile coffee units that create more employment chances for learners within a mentoring relationship while also generating revenue to sustain the programme.


The upshot is a set of questions that may spark some debate, but that suggest the possibility of different values in employee development:

– Is there a better way to do training?

– How do stable, satisfying coffee careers happen?

– How does a coffee business hire beyond the usual set of suspects (e.g. true diversity)?

– Can cafes, as a part of the current gentrification conversation, invest socially in their surroundings?

In Brighton and London, we’re still experimenting.


We’re happy to chat about our experiences, share tools and dream up new ones. Contact us here:



[email protected]


Ben Szobody is the founder and project manager for Pro Baristas. A longtime journalist, he also co-edits Longberry Magazine with James Hoffmann and develops other social projects for One Church Brighton.

*** Thumbnail image by GoToVan

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