Canada’s first meat science graduate program could soon be turning out masters and PhD students — with Olds College’s National Meat Training Centre playing a key role.
The college is one of five post-secondary institution partners behind the new Canadian Meat Education and Training Network, with the others the University of Alberta, the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Guelph and Université Laval.
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada has chipped in with a $1.65-million grant.
The four universities will work together to develop a shared graduate studies curriculum for the program, said Heather Bruce, an associate professor in the U of A’s department of agriculture, food and nutritional science, and director of the network.
“We have disparate skills across the country, but together we can certainly make a wonderful program.”
Students will be able to study at any of the four universities as they work toward a graduate degree in meat science.
But they will also be expected to spend time in industry settings — like Olds College’s National Meat Training Centre.
“Olds College is a very important part of our program, because it’s providing the hands-on and the practical application, from using knives to handling meat to cutting meat to making sausages,” said Bruce.
Brad McLeod, co-ordinator of the centre, is up for the challenge.
“It’s huge for us to play a role and help bring some hands-on skills to these kids, so when they go into the plants that they’re working in they understand what they’re seeing and doing and can relate to the people who are doing the jobs.
“We’re really excited by the opportunity.”
Students in the program will also complete a four-month internship at a Canadian meat processing facility, said Bruce.
Much still needs to be done, including establishing the coursework and extent of the hands-on training, but the partners hope 50 students will have graduated within six years, and by 2020 each university will have its own formal meat science graduate program.
The need is urgent, said Bruce, pointing out that the average age of middle managers in the meat industry is over 50.
“They’re anticipating a very steep drop-off in that population, so they’re going to need people.”
It can take many years for an industry worker with no relevant education to learn the business and advance through the ranks, she said. The Canadian Meat Education and Training Network should shorten those timelines significantly.
Colleges and universities in the United States already have graduate-level training related to the meat industry. But it can be difficult to attract American graduates to Canada and keep them here, said Bruce.
“We’d like to have a home-grown crop here so that they’ll stay and help us.”
Because the students in the program will have research requirements to satisfy, advancements in the industry should result.
Bruce is optimistic the Canadian Meat Council and Canadian Meat Science Association will support the Canadian Meat Education and Training Network, and certify graduates.
Olds College’s National Meat Training Centre was previously known as the college’s meat processing program. It provides students from across Canada and beyond with comprehensive training — from slaughter to retail — during a 15-week program.