In my career writing about the meat industry, I’ve had the opportunity to interview management in some of the largest processors in the nation, small state-inspected processors and many companies in between. While a multi-billion dollar corporation doesn’t have much in common with a small meat market, there are some similarities. Chief among them would be something at or near the top of their list of challenges: finding and retaining good employees.
The meat industry is not a career path for everybody. There can be temperature extremes and heavy lifting. There can be knives involved, and there can be that area in a processing facility where live animals become carcasses. It’s not a place for the squeamish or those who don’t want to do anything most exerting than changing a printer ink cartridge.
Still, for those who get involved, there are long-term benefits. Almost every plant I visit has employees who have worked there for 10 or 20 years, if not more. That kind of longevity doesn’t happen without a good employer and a satisfied employee. There is room for upward advancement. I’ve spoken to many people who started off on the production line and worked their way into upper management. Many of the owners/operators I meet at AAMP events got their start as a worker in someone else’s business.
How can the meat industry attract workers looking for a steady job? Should there be more outreach at the high school level to educate students who are more interested in learning a trade than pursuing a college degree? Should small businesses be reaching out to local meat science programs at agricultural universities? Should those university programs do more to make their students aware of the full scope of jobs in the meat industry? Many meat science grads dream of being a CEO of Tyson Foods someday, but they might find owning and operating a meat market or organic chicken company to be even more rewarding.
Finding employees is an industry-wide issue, and it’s something that should be tackled by the industry as a whole. If you have any ideas of what the meat world should do, or if you’ve had good success in finding employees, I’ve love to hear from you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.