HELENA — The answer to how to make ends meet during the pandemic might just be...Meat.
"This is an extremely vital industry with a lot of job security,” said Miles Community College meat processing coordinator Tina Rutledge.
The meat processing industry has been in need of skilled labor for a while.
“I’ll tell you. It’s always been, it’s been for quite some time, and it’s been in this whole industry as a whole," said owner of Tizer Meats in Helena Matt Elvbakken. "Not just in Montana. That there is a shortage of qualified meat cutters."
And COVID-19 hasn’t done anyone any favors.
“There was already a need for skilled workers before COVID hit but then after COVID lots of consumers are more eager to know where their food comes from, thus they are more likely to buy local," said Rutledge. "This has definitely caused an increase in demand among local processing plants. There are producers who have kill dates set on animals that haven’t even been born yet, so there has definitely been an influx in demand.”
The Miles Community College meat processing program in Miles City hopes to play a part in meeting that demand.
Their one year program combines online work with paid internships that result in an education that can help the graduates find work anywhere in the country.
And this program, which just kicked off this past January came at the right time during COVID.
“This has obviously raised some health and food safety concerns among consumers, so this program not only provides meat processing plants in Montana a skilled workforce, but also provides the workforce the education, regarding safe food handling and humane treatment of animals,” said Rutledge.
That looks like a trend that could continue once we’re on the other side of the pandemic too.
“I think that when you get to the metropolitan cities, I think people are probably a little more conscious of where their (meat) is coming from," said Elvbakken. "And I think there is going to be an insurgence of that.”