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Training for tomorrow

The critical lack of skills in the meat industry remains a cause for grave concern in
terms of the sustainability of the sector, but there are solutions if industry players make a concerted, joint effort.

At his presentation at IFMA Africa 2009 (International Fair for the Meat Industries) earlier this year, Aubrey Martin of Intercept Consulting & Training Solutions provided an invaluable overview of the current skills situation in the meat industry. “Training and skills development are long term means of improving the quality and profitability of the meat industry,” he said.

The traditional butcher of yester year was a son taking over the family business, an entrepreneur opening a butcher shop, or a young man looking for a career. For all of these entrants, formal training opportunities were negligible and they were self-taught or taught by the butcher shop owner.

The legacy of this, says Martin, is the meat industry of today, in which the lack of skills across the board is critical, accompanied by a host of existing staff problems. Not only is there a shortage of management skills and qualified blockmen, but there is a pervasive lack of knowledge in all areas, including meat cutting ability, retail and costing knowledge, hygiene and cold chain knowledge, communication skills, computer literacy, business skills and staff management.

The lack of skills is exacerbated by the general lack of staff loyalty in the industry, a result of the generally poor working conditions which include hard work, low salaries, long hours and significant management stress that leads to issues such as verbal abuse of staff. Consequently, staff are always moving from position to position, looking for improvement, even if this is just a couple of hundred rands in salary.

In light of these realities, it is a major challenge for butcheries and meat industry companies to provide consumers with what they are looking for. According to Martins, consumers want value for money, a wider range, quality and traceability, hygienic premises and friendly staff. In addition, many consumers would appreciate access to the butcher’s knowledge to make the right buying decisions.

It is not simply an issue in individual butcheries. To provide consumers with what they want, competent and loyal staff is required by abattoirs, meat processing and packing companies, wholesalers and retailers.

Since the available pool of skills is already severely limited, it is crucial to entice new young talent into the industry. Martin notes that the youth of today are looking for good salaries, long-term employment, good working conditions, as well as recognition and rewards.

“To attract young men and women to make a career in the meat industry, we need a proper training facility with premises in each of the major centres and qualified and dedicated instructors. This will require buy-in from government and companies in the meat industry, including feedlots, abattoirs, wholesalers, meat packers and retailers.”

What is required then is a dedicated Butcher’s School or Academy, with diploma and certified courses designed to cover all facets in the meat industry. New and existing staff must be trained, from the butchery manager and the sales person to the block person, the sausage-maker, packer and scale operator.

The great news is that training of new and existing staff will not only improve the skills pool. Qualified and well-trained staff will result in increased profitability as improvements are achieved in cutting skills, costings, health and hygiene, marketing skills and customer relationships.

“Processed and Preserved Meat, Fish, Fruit and Vegetables” is one of the five sub-sectors covered by FoodBev Seta. Among the scarce skills identified by the Seta, is “Meat Process Workers”. In addition, the Wholesale and Retail Seta (WRSETA) covers the wholesale trade in food, as well as retail trade in meat products. It also offers a range of programmes as well as financial assistance for training.

Through the Setas, butcheries can implement learnerships and get their training, essentially, for free. The Setas offer grants and funding for the training, in addition to which, SARS offers a tax incentive from R50 000 per learner. The formal qualifications that can be obtained include two FoodBev SETA accredited qualifications: the National Certificate: Fresh Meat Processing and the National Certificate: Meat Processing, both at NQF 3 levels. A career path can be followed by obtaining other SETA qualifications on NQF levels 4 and 5, which are not necessarily specific to the meat industry, but can prepare a worker to take up a supervisory or management position.

Several training insti-tutions provide training for the meat industry and can assist butchers in obtaining the funding available through the Setas for the training of both existing and new employees.

Intercept Consulting & Training Solutions offers a range of courses, including Hygiene & Cold Chain, Deboning, Sausage Making, Meat Packing, Blockman 1 and 2, Management/Business Skills, Computer Literacy, Customer Relations and a Basic Chef’s course.

Vleisopleidingsentrum is the only training provider currently offering the complete FoodBev SETA learnerships, which result in the recognised National Certificate qualification.
Freddy Hirsch’s South African Meat School is a first in the country. The courses include an Intermediate Meat Course and an Advanced Meat Course.

Crown National has developed training courses in association with the South African Chefs Association (SACA). Courses include one-day training sessions covering topics such as Ethnic Cooking and Garnishing and Presentation Skills, part-time courses covering Menu Planning and Food Costing, as well as a one-year Chef Certificate Programme.

The Centre for Culinary Excellence, a division of SACA, further presents a range of one day Skills Training courses in SACA’s new Skills Kitchen based at the University of Johannesburg. These include, for example, Meat: An Introduction, which is a “nose to tail” course in butchery, from the background of the meat industry through to taste-testing the difference between grass-fed and grain-fed meat.

Training for butchery staff is also available through the National Federation of Meat Traders.

The Red Meat Abattoir Association (RMAA), although not directly involved with the butchery environment, provides related training, mainly hygiene awareness and food safety system training, to cutting plants and, in some instances, butcheries.

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