Oregon Labor Market Information System
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Cuts Like a Knife: Slicing into the Meat, Poultry, and Fish Cutters, and Trimmers Occupation
by Shawna Sykes
Published Aug-16-2013

 
My apologies to my vegetarian friends but Oregon grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, or freshly caught salmon sound like good dinner options, don't they? Carnivores like me count on meat cutters and trimmers to help prepare our meat, poultry, and seafood for consumption. Let's slice into this occupation a little more and learn about what it's like to be a meat cutter.

It's a Meat Market
 
There were more than 800 people employed as meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers in Oregon in 2010. More than half (55%) of workers in this occupation were employed in the food manufacturing industry, doing animal slaughtering and processing as well as seafood product preparation and packaging. Another 31 percent of workers were employed in the retail trade sector, working in grocery and specialty food stores. The remaining meat cutters and trimmers worked in animal aquaculture, wholesale trade, and through employment service agencies.

Breaking into this occupation takes diligence. Many of those working in the retail industry start out by working in another department within the store first, getting to know the meat department staff, and then serving a period of time on the "extra" board floating among the other stores in the region before finding a permanent position.

Josh, a meat cutter at the Scappoose Fred Meyer store, has been in the industry for about 20 years. He started out at a small independent shop and moved to another retail store before landing his current job. He enjoys the camaraderie of working with a small group of peers and emphasizes the need for good people skills in this position. "You need to have a good work ethic and be able to produce product quickly," says Josh. It's a physical job that entails not just cutting and trimming meat, but also setting up the service cases, maintaining a clean work environment, assisting customers, and getting along well with your co-workers.

Heather, a 20-year veteran meat cutter at the Saint Helens Safeway store, says she likes the consistency of the job, knowing what to expect each day when she comes to work. Organizing the meat cases, filling racks, writing orders, cutting meat and seafood, and providing customer service is how most days are spent. Heather started out as a courtesy clerk at the store and later applied for the store's apprenticeship program in the meat department. For those interested in this field, she advises them to demonstrate interest and "be persistent" regarding openings.

You can find meat cutters all across the state. However, the Oregon Coast, with the seafood processing industry, and Oregon's dense population centers with more retail stores have a higher share of the state's employment in this occupation.

Graph 1
Industries of employment for meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers
Work Environment and Skills Needed
 
Meat cutters typically work indoors in large refrigerated areas. Because they are cutting large cuts of meat into smaller pieces, many meat cutters use power tools like band saws and circular slicers. To do this job, you need to be in good physical shape, be able to regularly lift more than 50 pounds, and stand for long periods of time in a chilly environment.

Meat cutting and trimming skills are typically learned on the job. Beginners start out with easier tasks like making simple cuts, removing bones, preparing sausage, and curing meat. With more training they learn how to prepare various cuts of meat and proper use and care of tools and equipment. Table 1 lists the skills most requested by Oregon employers in their meat cutter job listings in the past year, according to the Oregon Employment Department's iMatchSkills job matching system.

Table 1
Top 20 Skills Most Requested by Oregon Employers for Meat, Poultry, and Fish Cutters and Trimmers
Follow safety procedures
Use knife to trim fat and defects from meat, fish, or poultry
Apply health and sanitation standards
Weigh and package products
Fillet fish
Cut meat
Maneuver heavy objects
Use basic mathematics
Identify cut and grade of meat
Explain meat cutting and preparation
Use and maintain knives, hand saws, and bandsaws
Keep production records
Use evisceration techniques
Work as a team member
Hand pack products for shipment
Operate mechanical shell shucker
Maintain consistent quality
Apply quality assurance techniques
Prepare and package goods for shipment
Inspect products for quality or damage
Source: iMatchSkills job matching system from 7/1/12 to 6/30/13
Where's the Beef?
 
Wage ranges for meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers vary throughout the state, ranging from entry level of just over $9.00 per hour up to more than $22.00 per hour for those with advanced skills and experience, in some regions.

The 2013 average annual wage for meat cutters was $25,264, substantially lower than the average wage across all occupations in 2013 of $46,400. Average annual wages are highest in the Salem Metropolitan area (Marion, Polk, and Yamhill counties) at $31,347. Northwest Oregon had the second highest average annual wage for this occupation at $30,826, followed by the Central Oregon area of Crook, Deschutes, and Jefferson counties at $29,398 annually.

Wrap it Up
 
Thinking about chillin' in the refrigeration room as a meat cutter? Jobs in the meat, poultry, and fish cutting and trimming field are projected to grow by about 14 percent (116 jobs) from 2010 to 2020 statewide. It is estimated that more than two out of three openings will be created by replacements (when existing workers permanently leave their occupation) and a little less than one-third will result from growth in the occupation.