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Critical Shortage of Workers in Canada's Food Processing Industry

06 January 2015

CANADA - Providing 64,570 jobs across Canada, the meat industry is the largest component of this country’s food processing sector.

Recording revenue of $23.6 billion and exports of $4.5 billion, meat packing, processing and rendering constitute an integral and vital component of the Canadian livestock and meat sector value chain.

Although situated previously either within or in close proximity to major urban centres, meat packers and processors have been migrating progressively to less densely populated rural environments.

Meat plants require workers with a broad range of qualifications and abilities, including food safety professionals, electricians, plumbers, information technology specialists, marketing and sales representatives, and human resource experts.

Currently, a rapidly deteriorating nation-wide shortage of butchers, meat cutters and labourers is threatening the interests of Canadian livestock producers, meat packers and processors, workers, consumers, exporters and rural communities.

Skilled and Knowledgeable Workers Most jobs on the production line in a meat plant require good cognitive and interpersonal abilities as well as specialised skills (e.g., safe and precision use of manual knives, power grinders, band saws, slicing machines) and knowledge (e.g., animal welfare, food safety, muscle characteristics, carcass anatomy) that are developed through a combination of classroom learning and closely coached and supervised on-the-job training.

Moreover, production line workers must possess strong physical dexterity and endurance, good hand-eye coordination, attention to detail, sound judgement, ability to stand for long periods, and willingness to work in warm, humid and cold, refrigerated environments.

At one time, there were two distinct categories of butchers and meat cutters depending upon where they were employed.

"Industrial" butchers and meat cutters prepared either primal cuts for further processing or specific cuts for industrial, commercial or wholesale buyers. "Wholesale" or "retail" butchers and meat cutters prepared cuts of meat for sale in retail or wholesale food establishments.

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