Work-based learning provider Cambrian Training is working closely with the largest meat processing plant and abattoir in Wales to deliver apprenticeships tailored to the company’s need to develop skilled butchers.
Kepak, which has 830 employees at the company’s flagship facilities at St Merryn Merthyr, has already signed up 50 staff on the Welsh Government’s Apprenticeship Programme to upskill and develop its workforce with more being added every month.
All new recruits to the business go through a 12-week training and assessment programme that leads seamlessly on to apprenticeships.
Staff recruited in the lamb and beef boning departments must complete a minimum of seven knife skills tasks successfully during the training programme and their competence assessments carry forward to an apprenticeship, which will include further 23 tasks over 15 months.
As most new recruits have no previous butchery skills, they are trained and supported by trainers and ‘buddies’ in four departments – slaughter, beef and lamb boning and retail.
John Eagle, Kepak’s training co-ordinator, said the company is developing a training blueprint at St Merryn which will be used as a template for its other sites.
He has worked closely with Chris Jones, head of Cambrian Training’s food and drink business unit, to tailor apprenticeship pathways to meet Kepak’s specific needs.
“Together we have developed tailor-made apprenticeships for different departments at the St Merryn plant, incorporating the company’s standard operating procedures,” said Mr Jones. “It’s a great way for Kepak to develop a multi-skilled workforce.”
Mr Eagle said the 12-week training programme fits well with the apprenticeships delivered by Cambrian Training. “We have adapted the learning pathways mapped out in the apprenticeship criteria to fit with Kepak’s operational needs,” he explained.
“I think we have developed a framework template that is very viable. We have a big workforce on this site and there are excellent career development opportunities within Kepak.
“Apprentices receive both practical and theoretical training, having the opportunity to develop their expertise, meet new people and learn new skills in a supportive work environment.
“Employing apprentices with diverse backgrounds and abilities widens our talent pool and brings new ideas to the group.”
One of the first four trainees to progress from the training programme to an apprenticeship is Gaina Dobrin, 27, a Romanian who moved to Wales last December in search of well-paid work.
Despite having previously worked in the construction industry across Europe, he has picked up butchery skills quickly in the lamb boning department under the guidance of trainer Laurence Murphy.
A friend who already worked at the St Merryn plant encouraged him to apply for a job and he has no regrets about moving to Wales. “I enjoy the job and have been made to feel very welcome by the nice people I work with who have helped me,” said Gaina.
“I want to stay working here in Wales, learn new skills and raise money for myself and my father back home in Romania.”
Kepak’s long-term aim is to offer an apprenticeship framework to all its staff at Merthyr Tydfil to them fulfil their ambitions.
Cambrian Training delivers apprenticeships at levels 2, 3 and 4 in Meat and Poultry Industry Skills, Food Industry Skills, Food Management, Food Team Leading and Food Manufacturing Excellence.
The Apprenticeship Programme in Wales is funded by the Welsh Government with support from the European Social Fund.