Careers: Thought about the meat processing sector? You may be surprised

James Nason, 24/07/2017

Just before 30 high-school principals, career advisors and employment agency staff embarked on a tour of the state-of-the-art Oakey Beef Exports processing plant last Friday, general manager Pat Gleeson warned they were in for a mind-changing experience.

Pat Gleeson

The delegates were at the plant to learn more about the jobs and career opportunities the meat sector has to offer.

The $23 billion meat processing sector is one of Australia’s single largest employers. It directly employs 34,000 people across Australia and, through flow-on jobs, that number expands to 135,000 people.

Despite its size, attracting staff can be a challenge. A new Australian Meat Processor Corporation (AMPC) initiative titled “Meat. Your Future” aims to break down some of the myths that persist around working in the meat industry.

Mr Gleeson told the tour group on Friday that the meat industry is far more advanced and has a far greater diversity of jobs than they might realise.

As one of the most highly regulated industries in the world, the meat processing sector has many jobs related to compliance, quality assurance and workplace health and safety.

Digital technology is also transforming career options. IT staff, laboratory technicians, engineers are among the diverse array of staff now working at meat plants around the country.

Opportunities for alternative career pathways are also strong.

Oakey Beef Exports, for example, has electricians and fitters and turners employed in its maintenance division who previously worked as slaughtermen and boners. They completed senior apprenticeships with the support of the company’s management.

The Oakey Beef Exports plant is one of the most technologically advanced meat processing plants in Australia. It employs 730 people and its workforce is set to grow further with the planned installation of portion-control, “retail ready” processing equipment.

Mr Gleeson said another major change in the meat processing sector in the past 15 years has been the evolution from a “seriously male oriented” workforce to a far more balanced gender ratio today.

He said Oakey Beef Exports is committed to employing local people, and believes the employment of 457 visa workers should be “a last resort”.

Oakey last employed 457 visa workers 12 years ago when local staff were hard to find in the midst of the rising mining boom. The majority of 457 workers employed at that time have stayed with the plant and are now permanent residents and part of the local Oakey community.

But perhaps the strongest indicator of the value staff find in meat industry employment is borne out by figures showing employee longevity at Oakey Beef Exports.

More than 10 staff have been with the plant for more than 40 years, and a significant number between 30 and 40 years. The majority of the workforce has been employed at Oakey for at least five years.

Mr Gleeson said the company was “really pushing” to get more long term unemployed back in the workforce.

“It does my head in at times, there’s jobs going in our industry and yet sometimes you hear, ‘I don’t think I’d like that, I’ll stay on the dole’.

“As an industry we can do a better job by doing more to promote all the opportunities that are now available.

“It is not just about boning or slicing, especially in this day and age, all the technologies available, we’ve got so much more into the IT and software and hardware systems.”

It was a message Mr Gleeson was keen to get across to the delegation of high school principals, career advisors and recruitment staff who attended the information day at Oakey last Friday.

“I always guarantee to people who haven’t been in a processing facility that they are going to come out with a completely different view to what they have got going in.

“And guess what, they all did.

“You hear it all the time: ‘Wow, I never thought it would be like that’.”

“That is what we have got to do more of as an industry, to say have a look at us, have a think about us, there are a lot more opportunities here than you might have realised.”

AMPC Chairman Peter Noble said last Friday’s tour was showcased the great work Oakey Beef Exports does, and the vital contribution their work made to the red meat processing industry.

“No doubt the guests will see first-hand how much of a progressive and respectable industry red meat processing is and that it offers many opportunities for individuals and businesses alike.”

To find out more about Oakey Beef Exports, visit For more information about the ‘Meat. Your Future.’ Campaign, visit 


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