The future’s bright

Danny LidgateIt is a commonly discussed subject; the average age of a UK butcher seems to be between 50 and 60. I wonder what the average age would have been in 1950 after the war?

However, there now seems to be a healthy number of younger butchers emerging in and around London. We currently have three staff – all former chefs – who have become qualified butchers due to the better hours and better living conditions. They have an added advantage over us when it comes to product development and flavour balancing. There has also been an increase in new butcher’s shops started up by keen, inspired young men, along with father-to-son(s) succession. It is certainly easier to continue an established business. One former employee of ours started a new business about four years ago, with a small budget and a lot of heart. Now he has taken over a second shop and has a very happy local customer base. But the next thing is to attract school-leavers, and show them the benefits of the meat trade.
We recently advertised for an apprentice butcher, offering a full apprenticeship. There was a very quick response from a 17-year-old, who was not currently working. His name is Jamie. He had taken a job as an apprentice electrician, but in the six months employed, he had just worked as a cashier in the electrical shop. He had never been assessed, trained or tested and felt there was no prospect of development, so he left.

During the interview, I outlined the sort of apprenticeship I had in mind, and the job role he would be doing. As I led him around the shop and preparation areas it was a new experience for him. He left, and the other members of staff met me with smiles and questions. We had been short-staffed for a few weeks, and everybody was glad to hear he was starting on Monday.

Well Jamie has been with us for four weeks, and we’re really pleased with how he is progressing. He is starting a Level 3 butchery apprentice course very shortly. He can already dice and trim some cuts. He is the youngest member of the team for a long time.

Enthuse and motivate

Jamie has never been in a workplace like ours before, where it can be busy, working in a multicultural environment, and it would take any school-leaver some time to adjust to what is expected of them. There is a big difference between what a 21-year-old can do and what a 16- or 17-year-old can do.
We’re not expecting miracles overnight, and we are looking at a two-year period of training to pass the Level 3 course. We recently had three other butchers just finish the Level 3 course but one had been a chef and the other two had previous butchering experience. So their learning was at a very different speed.

The Level 3 qualification means the candidate has to complete modules covering cutting a range of different species. They also have to prove they can serve customers, as well as present and display meat products in the shop.

The best part of the course is that it is all on-site, so there is no travelling involved. The assessor comes to visit us every three months and spends a few hours with each candidate. Of course, that can cause some disruption but it is minimal. The assessor has always been the same person and he feels like he is part of our company when he visits.

The result of this training has meant these three young men have gained confidence, the respect of other team members and a sense of pride, along with a qualification. We are confident Jamie will continue on this path.

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