Restaurant chain PizzaExpress has launched the UK's first ever nationally recognised apprenticeship in pizza making.
The Gondola-owned brand is offering a one-year pizza chef apprenticeship programme (known as the "pizzaiolo apprenticeship") to teach trainees how to make the perfect pizza.
Apprentices will also work towards an Intermediate (Level 2) Apprenticeship in Kitchen Services, which will teach them how to work in a busy restaurant environment, as part of a scheme devised in partnership with vocational education specialists City & Guilds and Lifetime Training.
The programme is the equivalent of five GCSEs at grades A-C.
Matthew Hancock MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Skills, yesterday joined PizzaExpress chief executive Richard Hodgson to mark the launch of the apprenticeship.
They met master pizzaiolo Ben Walton, 35, along with the first set of pizzaiolo apprentices: Rebecca Hamilton, James Lakey, Chris Dale, Ben Colledge and Mike Stobbs.
PizzaExpress claims that more than 10,000 pizzaiolas have worked for the business since its first restaurant opened in London's Soho in 1965. Urbano Lopez at the company's Fulham Road restaurant is the company's longest serving pizzaiolo, with 35 years' service. Houssaine Ouarzane is the most senior at 69 years of age, while the company's youngest-ever pizzaiolo is 16-year-old Lauren Cane from Aldershot.
Hodgson said: "We're a big brand with a big responsibility to lead our sector. This means investing in our people, creating new opportunities, giving our teams a reason to feel good about what they do and, by doing so, ensuring the quality of our food for the nation's pizza-lovers."
Hancock added: "Apprenticeships are an excellent way to earn while you learn in a range of different industries. The pizzaiolo apprenticeship is designed to provide the essential skills for anyone hoping to become a professional chef.
"Hands-on experience with one of the country's leading restaurant chains will prove invaluable for people wanting to go into hospitality. Our aim is that going to university or doing an apprenticeship becomes the new norm, providing a fully trained workforce to keep the UK ahead in the global race."
PizzaExpress currently has 423 restaurants nationwide.
Pictured left to right: Rebecca Hamilton, Matthew Hancock MP, James Lakey, Ben Walton, Chris Dale, Richard Hodgson, Ben Colledge, Mike Stobbs.