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Become a Meat Cutter: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a meat cutter. Research the education and training requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in the meat cutting industry.

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Do I Want to Be a Meat Cutter?

Meat cutters, also known as butchers, prepare cuts of meat for customers according to their specifications. They may also monitor inventory and take care of knife and equipment maintenance. Additional job duties include properly displaying food for customers and cleaning meats and fish. Meat cutting can be physically demanding - standing for extended periods of time, lifting heavy objects and spending time in meat storage 'cold rooms' are all part of the job.

Job Requirements

Those seeking a career in this vocational trade often learn the necessary skills on the job, though some may choose to complete short postsecondary training programs. The following table outlines the main requirements for meat cutters:

Common Requirements
Degree Level No formal education is required, though formal training may help aspiring meat cutters enter the profession*
Degree Field Meat merchandising or marketing, or a related field*
Experience Up to 2 years of experience may be required**
Key Skills Concentration and coordination are essential for meat cutters since they work with dangerous knives and equipment; they should also have customer service, listening and teamwork skills*
Technical Skills Meat cutters use tools such as grinders, tenderizers, saws, knives, slicers and scales**
Additional Requirements Dangerous tools and machinery used in this profession lead to a high rate of injury on the job; physical strength and stamina are important, since meat cutters may lift heavy items and stand for long periods of time*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ** job postings from September 2012

Step 1: Consider a Formal Education Program

Though securing a job as a meat cutter doesn't require any formal education, aspiring meat cutters may wish to consider entering a certificate or degree program. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicated that holding a degree may help applicants enter the meat cutting profession, and may be required for advancement within the field. Formal education programs may help students gain a better understanding of the industry and the methodology of meat cutting. Both certificate and associate's degree programs are offered at community colleges, technical schools and other institutions. Certificate programs may be completed in a year or less; subjects covered include knife care, sanitation, custom meat cutting, pricing, preparation of cuts and chops, meat merchandising and food safety. Associate's degree programs cover many of the same topics, while also covering general education topics, such as composition and history.

Success Tips:

  • Pursue internship opportunities. Some formal education programs offer the opportunity to complete internships. Students in internships gain real-world experience with professionals in the industry and may be better equipped to enter the workplace after graduation.
  • Focus on course selection. In some certificate and degree programs, students may have the chance to select electives in relevant topics. Taking an elective in a subject such as computer skills or job-seeking skills can help students gain important proficiencies that can help secure employment in the field.

Step 2: Gain Experience at a Grocer or Butcher Shop

Many meat cutters gain experience working at a grocery store, butcher shop or meat processing plant. Hands-on experience is one of the most important factors for a career in meat cutting. It typically takes 2 years of on-the-job training to be considered a highly skilled meat cutter. Mastery of basic skills - such as shaping simple cuts of meat, bone removal and trimming - is required before a trainee gains the techniques to cut large, wholesale pieces of meat. Meat cutters also receive education in safety, inventory control, curing meat and basic business operations.

Success Tips:

  • Stay physically fit. Meat cutting can be a physically taxing profession, since meat cutters spend long hours on their feet, carry heavy cuts of meat and work in hot and cold environments. Developing a fitness regimen may help meat cutters build stamina and deal with the physical strains of the job.
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