FoodGrads Podcast Ep 52: Exploring Ontario’s Meat & Poultry industry with Laurie Nicol, CareersNow! Meat & Poultry Sector Lead
Welcome to episode 52 of the FoodGrads Podcast we interviewed Laurie Nicol, CareersNow! Meat & Poultry Sector Lead. CareersNow! CareersNOW! is Food and Beverage Ontario’s workforce development initiative for Ontario’s vibrant and growing food and beverage manufacturing industry.
On this episode Lorie and Veronica talked about the CareerNow! initiative and how they are helping raise awareness for the industry but all the FREE resources available to you through the program. Laurie explained to me how she got into the meat industry and why she decided to stay. Veronica got a better understanding of how the meat industry looks as a whole across Ontario. She was surprised to learn how large it was and the diversity among it. They also talked about just general views on the industry as a whole including the idea of craftsmanship and loving what you do. Laurie really knows what is talking about and it might just make you reconsider what you think of when you think about the meat industry.
[00:02:02] Laurie gives an introduction about herself
- The meat and poultry sector accounts for almost 20% of Ontario’s Food and Beverage Manufacturing sector
- Food and Beverage Ontario has job seeker’s training and additional resources for job seekers however they also have help for employers as well. So there is also training available for onboarding and training. This is offered through Food Processing Skills Canada and is making sure that it is relevant to the audience.
[00:04:13] Can you tell me more about your career journey and how it led to where you are today?
- Laurie graduated with a business degree in data processing and at they time had a strong interest in accounting but didn’t immediately pursue it. Instead the head of the Ontario Independent Meat Processors Association was looking for help record keeping changing from paper based to computer based. Laurie stared her career designing a database in a Commodor 64 which led her down a path of learning. She hasn’t left the industry sense then and now has been there for 35 years.
[00:06:25] Laurie starts talking about why she loves the industry
- Laurie loves the people who work in the industry as the relationships that you build and maintain can last the span of your lifetime. As well, the industry has a lot of diversity she started as designing databased and eventually became the executive director of the association.
[00:07:16] Can you tell us more about the meat and poultry industry in Ontario?
- It is a diverse sector with over 700 companies across the province from front end harvesting to large corporations to small family run 10 person operations. The association started in 1980 as a voice for independent companies who really embraced the need for food safety regulations and providing education for longstanding traditions. The association is there to help the industry and helping them with business management tools.
[00:10:07] What type’s of meat and poultry are there in Ontario?
- Turkey, chicken, Cornish hens, quail, duck and other specialty birds
- Beef, pork, lamb, goat, buffalo, rabbits, ostrich
- There are a lot of companies that specialize in small amounts of animal and when you go to the rural side of the province you will see more of that diversity. This is also the time to see more of the value added products such as smoked duck breasts.
[00:13:11] Is it true that a lot of the meat in Ontario is processed in larger facilities?
- No, and that is what is most exciting. Ontario has a diverse meat industry this can be seen with Ontario’s finest meat competition where they show off cured and smoked products coming out of smaller companies. Laurie has the luck of being able to drive across the province and see the meat shops. These meat shops have retail counters allowing a consumer to go in there have everything in front of them.
[00:16:05] Are their opportunities to work in small butcher shops?
- Because larger companies are larger then inherently have more opportunities than a smaller. There is higher likelihood you will do something that is specialized. In a smaller company there is more opportunities to work different types of job. There are people who do things other than cutting meats like a sausage maker who uses a specialized piece of equipment.
- There is also the food science side like the food technologists or product developers. For example, there use to only be pork bacon but now you can find beef or turkey bacon. Every company has a business component to it and depending on the size of the company you will find finance managers and HR managers.
- You need to look at the industry as a whole. It isn’t just limited to the processing side but all the retail and food service suppliers to the industry which are a significant sector to Ontario’s economy.
[00:20:41] Laurie starts talking about the need for the sector because everyone needs to eat.
- The pandemic has shown that this industry is recession proof.
[00:21:52] What is the environment like working in a meat production facility?
- There are many jobs throughout a facility and the temperature will vary depending on where you are working. It is similar how when you work in a bakery it is warmer because the ovens. The cold environments are essential and there because of food safety.
[00:24:19] Can you explain a bit more about how the people working in the meat industry are “good”?
- One company that Laurie has worked for has three generations. Another thing is that there are some companies that before every long weekend they will provide a lunch for their workforce or will provide employee discounts.
- A recent worker survey they have done with staff in the industry have made comments like:
- “So in supportive, there’s a teamwork environment. My boss makes me feel like a team.”
- “I feel we’re treated as equal. In dependency within the role, the opportunities to grow and advance my career.”
- “Good variety of tasks, independent role combination of mental and physical work. Constant changes makes me busy all the time. The challenge I gain experience, learning new things, teaching new hires hours and schedule flexibility being left alone because I know what I’m doing.”
[00:28:01] Laurie talk more about working in the industry
- COVID prevented workplaces from doing a lot of things such as bringing in food for everyone to eat. More and more working moms are in the workforce which might mean a delayed start.
- It’s going to take a while for the industry to figure out work life balance because filling these positions with automation is not a solution but a tool. They will always require labour in the sector but these jobs will be fun and exciting.
- We are now in a era where you have to be honest with an employer. If the posting says that it starts at 6:00AM ask if there is any flexibility. It starts with a conversation at the job interview and starting a conversation.
- Some companies have had to be creative. If you look in rural areas then they don’t have access to public transportation. There are employers that drive into the city and pick upshift employees. There are also companies matching ride sharing opportunities because every sector is faced with the challenge of recruiting and affordable living.
- At the end of the day it doesn’t hurt to ask about accommodations during the job interview.
[00:33:56] Are their any stories in the industry that you would like to promote?
- People are caring in the industry. Laurie’s son is 25 next month and people still ask her how her son is. This is what drew Laurie to the Meat and Poultry Ontario Association because there is a sense of community and caring. At the end of the day that’s all that is needed to be said. Job seekers can choose where they go but when you treat people well and you provide that kind of environment to work than you are going to stay.
[00:35:22] Does the Meat and Poultry Association have any resources or events that students check out?
- The Meat and Poultry Association has an Expo in October which acts as a trade show that shows equipment suppliers different technologies. They also will be hosting the butcher competition. Amy Proux brought her class down to see the variety of equipment out there. They are holding the finals for the butcher competition on Saturday which is the first time Canada will be putting team Canada into the world butcher competition in September of this year. Four of the seven teams came from Ontario.
[00:38:30] Laurie talks about Agscape
- Meat and Poultry Ontario is teaming up with Agscape to advertise the agricultural industry to high schools. There are more jobs then just general labourers. There are jobs like being the meat inspector of the facility.
[00:40:14] Laurie talks about these jobs are a stable income
- The food industry like to hire within. You could start in the office and eventually become the HR manager. A lot of companies also offer inbound, like training and all that. And a lot of times they would rather much hire within and promote rather than hire outside. Summer internship opportunities are a great segway to getting into the company. It can provide stable summer employment through their post-secondary education.