Retirements of small-town butchers and a growing shortage of meat processing workers due to the pandemic elevated the need for training more meat cutters. Ridgewater College answered the call and is currently one of only two colleges in Minnesota offering training for this profession. With a flexible delivery format that includes asynchronous online classes combined with in-person, off-campus labs completed at a facility near the student, the program has started strong.
According to Jeff Miller, Ridgewater dean of technical instruction, the primary focus in the development of the program was to meet local and regional industry needs for both entry-level and more advanced meat cutting professionals. “Numerous small butcher shops and meat markets have had to close because of a lack of available people to take over the business,” said Miller. “Our program was developed with a large advisory committee consisting of public and private interest in the meat cutting industry. They helped us determine the appropriate length and the knowledge, skills, and abilities a person should possess when entering the meat cutting profession.”
The 18-credit certificate is just one semester in length, allowing students to enter into the field quickly and without significant cost. Ridgewater does not charge out-of-state tuition.
According to Sophia Thommes, Ridgewater’s meat cutting instructor, fall semester started with eight students and is now up to ten, in part due to the program’s flexibility. “When I started, we adapted our model to allow students the flexibility to find a butcher or meat processing site near them for the labs or the option to work with one of our local partners,” said Thommes. “We’re now an option for students across the nation seeking this type of training.”
Most classes are in four-week blocks, adding to the program’s flexibility. In addition, individuals who are interested in a single course can also select specific courses. “While most students are pursuing the certificate, we do offer flexibility for the hobbyist to take individual courses,” said Thommes. “For example, the Wild Game Animal Processing class starts November 14 and is seeing interest from hunters who are interested in processing their own meat.”
A recent tour for media at Carlson Meat Shop in Grove City reinforced the need for more meat cutters. According to plant manager Jesse Weseman, the shop is booked out until February with processing orders.
The next time to begin the full program is spring semester, which starts January 9, 2023. Anyone interested in learning should visit ridgewater.edu/meat-cutting. Campus and virtual visits are available at ridgewater.edu/visit.