There’s about to be a new stream of locally trained labour for the province’s meat sector.
Brandon’s Assiniboine Community College (ACC) is preparing for the first crop of students at its new animal protein-processing training centre. The college is expecting about 40 graduates annually out of the centre’s first program. The 11-month class will greet its first students next month.
Why it matters: A new meat-processing course is coming to Manitoba at the same time as the province is looking for ways to expand protein production, which will mean more jobs in the area.
“There’s going to be smoking equipment. There’s going to be sausage making, so further value added, equipment in there that is tied to the retail marketplace,” Tim Hore, dean of ACC’s School of Agriculture and Environment, said. “There’s certainly going to be a mock-up line that you would see in a pork-processing plant as well, just to give students the understanding of what line speeds mean and being able to cut meat at that speed as well.”
The province promised $300,000 to the project April 26 through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, the successor to Growing Forward 2.
The college has received a joint $640,000 in community, industry and public funds for the centre. Pork giants such as Maple Leaf Foods and HyLife Foods have both thrown financial support behind the project, along with the Manitoba Pork Council, local branch of the United Food and Commercial Workers and the Brandon Hog and Livestock Show.
The pork industry featured heavily in the April 26 announcement, although the college says its first program will apply to more meat markets than just pork.
“That centre will allow for a variety of programs to be offered there, so they can be tailored to different species and different interests, different durations,” college president Mark Frison said. “The initial program that is going to run through there is a multi-species program and it trains people to a retail cutting standard.”
The centre may eventually have a role in “customized industry training and applied research,” an April 26 release said.
Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler tied the training centre to the province’s protein advantage strategy; an incoming framework meant to expand both plant and animal protein markets. By 2025, the province hopes to grow meat processing in Manitoba by 35 per cent over 2017 levels, according to a February consultation paper.
“We are so uniquely placed in Canada to be able to be the main protein supplier of choice, so this is just one more step in order to help us prepare,” Eichler said. “We’re excited about the partnership and, of course, working together to make sure we have a safe workforce.”
Both Eichler and the Manitoba Pork Council say the meat sector will need more workers, if the pork industry is to continue to expand. The pork sector is not producing enough hogs to match its processing capacity, the pork council has said, and more workers would be needed if herd sizes increase.
The province has also, however, noted a gap in beef-processing capacity. There is currently only one federally certified beef processor in Manitoba, and the beef sector largely relies on processors in places like Alberta.
The training centre comes three years after the province charged ACC to revamp empty parts of its main campus.
Bea Bruske, secretary treasurer for the local branch of the United Food and Commercial Workers, said the centre might lead more local workers to consider a career in the meat sector, but may also be a source of continuing education for foreign workers, a labour stream that both Maple Leaf Foods and HyLife Foods have historically drawn on.
Until now, she said, there have been few educational opportunities for high-skilled meat sector workers.
“Investing in the Food Processing Centre makes total sense for us,” she said. “This new facility will create pathways for current and future UFCW members to acquire skills that will enhance their job and wage opportunities.”
Eichler said the new stream of local labour will not “necessarily” impact the number of workers immigrating to staff plants like Maple Leaf Foods and HyLife Foods.
“When you have a system like Assiniboine Community College, it’s setting the stage for other universities to up their game as well,” he said. “So good on Assiniboine (Community College) for being a leader.”