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Butchers Bring Home the Bacon...and the Beef
by Brooke Jackson
Published Nov-19-2012

 
About two years ago my parents bought a cow. Or, more specifically, they went halvsies with some friends on the cost of raising and butchering a cow. Apparently this was a cost-effective way to acquire a few hundred pounds of hormone-free, grass-fed beef. Or maybe it was just an excuse for my dad to buy a walk-in freezer.

Whatever their reasons, I'm not complaining. During the last two years I've received numerous cuts of meat from my generous parents. Each time I unwrap a steak or roast, I pause to admire the excellent slicing and packaging work performed by the butcher. It inspired me to learn more about this small, specialized occupation.

The Daily (Meat) Grind
 
A butcher or meat cutter is someone who cuts, trims, or prepares consumer-sized portions of meat for use or sale in retail establishments. A butcher generally starts with a large, wholesale-sized cut of meat. In my parent's case, the butcher started with a whole cow!

Butchers and meat cutters spend the majority of their time preparing cuts of meat, and are required to carefully follow health, sanitation, and safety standards. Almost all of these workers must have a Food Handler's certification. Additionally, butchers are usually responsible for some basic business activities such as inventory management and providing customer service. A review of job listings posted with the Oregon Employment Department shows that employers request non-meat and meat-related skills about equally (Table 1).

There is no formal education requirement for this occupation, although individuals with post-secondary training have a competitive advantage in the labor market. Employers generally provide on-the-job training to new workers. Simple cutting can be learned in a relatively short period of time, while more complicated cuts require several months of training. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, "Apprentice butchers can spend several years learning the skills and building the strength they need to become fully qualified butchers."

Table 1
Skills Most Often Requested by Oregon Employers for Butchers and Meat Cutters
Skill Number of Job Listings
Follow safety procedures 85
Provide customer service 84
Apply food handling rules 84
Cut meat 82
Wrap and label products 80
Apply health and sanitation standards 80
Weigh and package products 79
Use and maintain knives, hand saws and bandsaws 77
Identify cut and grade of meat 74
Procure and store meat 74
Source: iMatchSkills Job Listings, 2010-2012
Tough Size but Tall Prospects
 
In Oregon, butchers and meat cutters is a fairly small occupation. There are fewer than 1,500 of them, which means they account for only about 0.1 percent of the state's workforce. This ratio holds at the national level, as the 130,700 butchers and meat cutters in the United States account for less than 0.1 percent of the workforce.

Despite its small size, this occupation is expected to see healthy growth during the next 10 years. From 2010 to 2020, the number of butchers and meat cutters in Oregon is expected to grow about 16 percent, the same as the statewide average rate for all occupations. The total number of job openings is projected to be somewhat higher than the statewide average, with about 23 brand new positions each year and 46 job openings from people who retire or change careers.

Bacon Location and Average Moo-lah
 
Nearly three-quarters of Oregon's butchers and meat cutters work for a grocery store. Another 17 percent work in other types of retail establishments. The remaining 9 percent of the workers are employed by a grocery wholesaler or food manufacturer.

Butchers and meat cutters are located all around the state, with the largest number of workers in the Portland metropolitan area. Their geographic distribution generally follows the average distribution of workers in the state. The only exception is in Southern Oregon: about 10 percent of Oregon's butchers and meat cutters work in Jackson or Josephine County, an area that accounts for only about 6 percent of the state's workforce.

The average entry-level wage for butchers and meat cutters is about $10 an hour, which is somewhat higher than Oregon's minimum wage. The average wage is $16 an hour, and the highest-paid workers make more than $22 an hour.

Pork Out on More Info
 
If you want to learn more about butchers and meat cutters, the website O*Net OnLine provides a comprehensive list of the attributes and job duties of this occupation. The Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics has information about the work environment and typical training requirements for butchers. In addition, the Employment Department's site, QualityInfo.org/olmisj/OIC, provides links to current job listings and other Oregon-specific information. Or you could head down to your local grocery store and grill the butcher directly.