Students cut and prepare for new careers

Manitoba college’s new Food Processing Centre for Animal Proteins specializes in meat cutting and processing

Jasmeen Kaur has only been in Canada for seven months, but she has big plans.

The student, from India, plans to get a job at a pork processing plant, then earn a job in quality control at a food processor and finally, get a position with the federal government.

“The long-term goal is to work for the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) and become a food inspector,” said Kaur at Assiniboine Community College in Brandon.

Kaur and her fellow students are taking an 11-month certificate program in food processing at the college’s new Food Processing Centre for Animal Proteins, specializing in meat cutting and meat processing.

The students, mostly from India and China, began the course in May 2019 and will complete the program this spring.

The federal and provincial governments, Maple Leaf Foods, Hylife Foods, Manitoba Pork, the United Food and Commercial Workers union and the Brandon Hog and Livestock Show contributed $1.165 million to help build the centre.

The students have been using the 3,067 sq. foot facility since November.

“I’m thrilled to be in a facility like this and see the potential here,” said Manitoba Agriculture Minister Blaine Pedersen, who spoke at the grand opening Jan. 22.

“This new facility will ensure there’s a steady stream of qualified individuals to work in our (meat) processing industry for years to come.”

Meat processors, like the Maple Leaf pork plant in Brandon and HyLife Foods in nearby Neepawa, desperately need employees because there’s a shortage of meat cutters in Canada.

The job vacancy rate at meat plants in rural Canada is estimated at 10 percent or higher.

Those plants already employ a significant number of recent immigrants, who moved to western Manitoba from China, the Philippines, India and elsewhere. A college spokesperson said there’s a waiting list for the next certificate program in meat processing.

It will begin after the first group has graduated.

The 38 students in the current program have already worked at Maple Leaf and HyLife through a practicum that is part of the course.

Kaur moved to Brandon from India last May to take the meat processing training. The practicum component was especially appealing.

“I have an engineering degree in food technology…. I was looking for a food program in Canada and I came across this one,” said Kaur, who was dressed in the all-white outfit of butchers and meat cutters. “You’re learning in school and you’re actually partners with the companies, where you can learn about their (work) environment.”

In a few months, Kaur expects most of the students will take jobs at Maple Leaf or HyLife.

“Since there is a (substantial) amount of vacancies over there, I think all of us will be able to get into those companies.”

The students have been learning how to cut up pork carcasses and have also practised on beef, poultry and fish. They also operate a retail meat store at ACC.

“We’re (making) some value-added products,” Kaur said. “We’re doing smoked bacon and some marinated meat.”

Ralph Eichler, Manitoba’s agriculture minister from 2015-19, also attended the grand opening and spoke with several of the students.

“They’re excited about going to work,” said Eichler, who is now minister of economic development and training. “To tie (this) in with immigration and the opportunity to have a job … is pretty exciting.”

Kaur is excited about her future in Canada and her first seven months have been amazing — except January in Western Canada.

“I’m from India where we have plus 50 and not minus 50.”

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