These weekend was a busy one for Brad McLeod.
The National Meat Training Centre at Olds College, of which McLeod is co-ordinator, played host to the Alberta Food Processors Association’s 2014 meat convention.
There were workshops, courses and competitions, with 70-plus people taking part.
A year ago, the centre would have been unable to handle the associated demands.
But it had celebrated the official reopening of its expanded and modernized facilities on Friday, and consequently was able to accommodate the convention.
Previously known simply as the Olds College meat processing program, the National Meat Training Centre underwent a facelift from May to January. Its slaughter floor was expanded, separate rooms created for different aspects of production, and the cooler and meat cutting room enlarged.
“Before, we could only do one thing at a time in the plant,” said McLeod, explaining that one day would be dedicated to slaughtering, and then others to specific applications like cutting or sausage-making.
“We had to have a cleanup and separation between all of these processes. Now we can, theoretically, run all of the processes all of the time.”
There’s space to conduct courses for industry, without disrupting instruction of Olds Collage students in the meat processing program, he added.
The centre also benefited from a badly-needed modernization.
“Our facility was built in 1969, and the food safety requirements have changed since then,” said McLeod.
The additional room also means more students can be accepted into the college’s 15-week program. Previously the limit was 12; now it’s 18.
“We plan to run 24,” said McLeod. “So it would have doubled our output of students.”
Those students are from across Canada, and beyond.
“Our students come from all over the world,” said McLeod.
The appeal of the program is its comprehensive training, from slaughter to retail.
“We’re the only program that does all of these things.”
And the training is in demand.
“The students all have jobs, and a lot of them have jobs before they come,” said McLeod.
He considers the National Meat Training Centre to be a partner of industry, with meat-cutting businesses providing input into the types of training needed for future employees and existing ones. They also play an important role in financing the centre’s operations — as do community supporters like Mountain View County, which recently pledged $60,000 to the centre.
“Community support for the National Meat Training Centre at Olds College is essential, as this is one of our programs that receives no base government funding,” said Tanya McDonald, associate vice-president of research and learning enterprises at Olds College. “The program survives off of profits earned from the National Meat Training Centre retail outlet, student tuition, and donations from the community and industry.”
Additional information about the National Meat Training Centre at Olds College and the meat processing program can be found by going to www.oldscollege.ca, and then choosing Programs & Courses, followed by Animal Sciences and then Meat Processing.