AF STAFF |OLDS
Education and training are key to reducing turnover and attracting new entrants to meat cutting.
That’s the view of Brad McLeod, co-ordinator of the meat processing program at Olds College
“There’s a huge de-skilling in our industry,” said McLeod. “Most people are only trained how to do one cut. They’re not trained to do complete jobs like the students who take our course.
“Often, people are only taught what they need to know to do the job, not what they need to know to build a career.”
The meat industry employs about 80,000 people across Canada, and there is a huge shortage of qualified meat cutters, as well as a lack of young people entering the industry.
The industry not only needs to foster a better image, but step up its training and technology, said McLeod.
Olds College has been running a meat processing program since 1969. The 15-week-long certificate program trains 12 students at a time on every aspect of the business, from slaughter to retail. Graduates receive certification as industrial butchers. It is is the only certificate program of its kind in North America and only one of two globally, said McLeod.
Students, who hail from all around the world, take courses in plant and food safety including slaughter, meat cutting, processed meats, communications and employability. The course is 80-per-cent hands on and 20-per-cent theory. All courses are run in the Olds College plant, a provincially inspected meat processing facility identical to those used in the industry.
There are a number of shorter courses available throughout Canada, including retail meat cutting courses at NAIT and SAIT. However, there is no meat science degree available at any university in Canada and an apprenticeship program is only active in British Columbia, which trained seven apprentices in 2009.
Canada has also started to lag behind global competitors in technology, robotics and value-added cuts, said McLeod, adding there is no national training strategy for people who wish to enter the industry.
In 2005, McLeod and several partners completed a national study on barriers that kept people from entering the meat industry. They found problems with recruitment, and a lack of a defined career path for people once they were involved in the field. As part of his research, McLeod travelled to Denmark, Germany, the United States and Australia, and researched their meat industries and training strategies.
Partners such as the Beef Information Centre and Alberta Pork have worked with McLeod and Olds College to start developing a national meat strategy. The Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency has allocated funds to assist with seven online training courses in meat industry management, meat inspection training, and entry-level retail meat cutting. Alberta Agriculture has also partnered with the group to create a meat inspection training program.
In addition, the industry needs a better image and a clearer definition of career paths, said McLeod.
The group created a recruitment website “ Meatforce.ca” which included testimonies from people involved in the industry highlighting its opportunities.
“It’s not just standing on a line and cutting,” said McLeod. “There’s a lot more to it. We try to make the meat industry sexy.”
A six-week billboard campaign in Red Deer and Calgary in 2008 was designed to attract visitors to the website, which is still active and features job postings, training options, and news from the industry.
The meat industry also suffers from a retention problem, which ties back to the lack of designated career paths, said McLeod. He believes in creating certification programs and more educational opportunities, including management training.
“We need to develop some pride in the industry,” he said.
“It’snotjuststanding onalineandcutting. There’salotmoretoit. Wetrytomakethemeat industrysexy.”
COORDINATOR OF THE MEAT PROCESSING PROGRAM AT OLDS COLLEGE