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A NEW generation of young graduates and school-leavers are discovering that the red meat industry can provide a challenging and rewarding career path, in an increasingly diverse range of fields.
The Australian Meat Processor Corporation last Friday hosted a gathering for the northern Rivers community in northern NSW, as part of Primex Field Days near Casino. The event was attended by local business and community leaders, careers advisors and mayors from Kyogle, Lismore, Casino and the lower rivers area – the key labour catchment for the Casino Food Coop processing plant near Casino.
AMPC launched its More to Meat Campaign in August to highlight the important role processors play in regional communities, the national meat supply chain and the industry’s significant contribution to the national economy.
Northern Co-operative Meat Co chief executive Simon Stahl spoke about the importance of the red meat processing industry for Casino and its surrounding communities, and what the new employment opportunities look like.
Mr Stahl gave an example of a third-generation member of the same family now working at the meatworks. He gave a number of other examples of success stories, just one of which was the ‘After School crew’ concept, managed by boning room manager ‘Grandpa Joe’, who now has 32 secondary school students coming to work a few hours each day after school at the abattoir.
“They get taught some skills, get to learn, and then hopefully they see there can be a career in the processing industry, for as much or as little as they want,” Mr Stahl said.
The breakfast was told that modern day processors employ a whole range of different people, beyond the key fabrication staff – safety roles, hygiene specialists, scientists, mechanics, tradies, and marketers.
Three enthusiastic and young Co-op staff also spoke about how they entered the industry, and their career highlights so far….
Big responsibility on young shoulders
Killarney Moss, who grew up in the flood-devastated local community of Woodburn, has worked with Casino for the past two and a half years.
“I had no clue what the work entailed when I first started, having lost my previous job due to COVID shutdowns,” she said.
“I was studying a clinical science degree, and applied for a quality assurance assessor traineership at the plant.”
Killarney then went on to do a Cert IV in meat processing and food safety, as well as AusMeat qualifications across the plant.
Recently she has shifted into a QA coordinator technical role, which she considered a huge responsibility, as a 21-year-old. “It’s a credit to the company for showing that faith in me,” she said.
Killarney has now commenced a bachelor’s degree in applied science, specialising in food science and nutrition, funded by the Co-op. “They pay me to go to Wagga each semester to study – it is huge,” she said.
“I’m really excited to continue down this path, and see how I can apply it. It’s a really big career path progression for me, and I can see it being applied in the Co-op retail ready facility, where there is plenty of innovation happening.”
Change of direction
Tim Peterson is a Casino local, who started with the Co-op back in 2013 on the beef slaughter floor. After eight years, he sought a change of career direction, applying for an apprenticeship with the plant maintenance crew. He is now a first year fitter machinist apprentice, studying at TAFE two days each fortnight, funded by the company.
“When I see a breakdown on the floor now, I see it in a different light,” he said. “I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity through the company to do it.”
Gap year work turns into full-time career
Jess Tunnage came to the Co-op from the local Casino High School, and having worked there for 14 years, is now regarded by her employer as one of the industry’s leading meat microbial professionals.
“I was doing a gap year before going off to uni, and threw my hat into the ring with the Co-op – the biggest employer in the region,” she said.
During her training period she was picked up as an apprentice to go into the plant’s laboratory.
“The lab was very small at the time, but I completed Certificates III and IV the first year. I did then return to Uni, but through the support of the Co-op, which was a change in what I thought my career path would take.”
Having completed her bachelor of science with a major in micro-biology, Jess now runs the plant’s fully-accredited laboratory for export, coving shelf-life testing and a range of other food safety and product development work.
She has since completed her Masters, again fully supported by the Co-op, working with some of the best meat scientists in the country at CSIRO, UNE and elsewhere.
“They are now life-long connections that I have, leading me through my meat science journey,” she said. “They are the greats that we look up to when we have problems, or are doing some trouble shooting, bringing those R&D skills into the Co-op.”
Jess said the Co-op was a critical and pivotal part of the local community. “We don’t celebrate our successes enough, but we are what I think is a very successful, and very important part of our community.”
AMPC’s Chris Taylor said the Casino Food Co-op was a great example of a red meat processor based in regional Australia, doing a tremendous job in creating local employment.
“Of course that hasn’t been without its challenges over the past 12 months. The business has confronted a global pandemic, supply chain pressures, and the flooding across the region earlier this year. Despite those setbacks, the Casino Food Co-op keeps pushing ahead, earning the Business of the Year award at the recent Northern Rivers business awards,” Mr Taylor said.
“All processors, like Casino, are a significant part of the community in which they operate, and this is really what AMPC’s ‘More to Meat’ campaign is really all about – highlighting the integral role that processors play in regional communities across Australia,” he said.
There are about 138,000 people supported in jobs within the meat processing industry across Australia, in more than 300 communities.
Each of those people played a pivotal role in the national food supply chain, helping deliver nutritious, high-value, high quality meat to dining tables across the country, and overseas, Mr Taylor said.
- AMPC’s role is to progress the development of Australia’s red meat processing industry through research and development for 108 processing companies of every size, location and product type.