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SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth

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In conversation with… Jan Snijders, a subject teacher at SVO, Sem Pieper, a production worker at Ekro and Bert Bosveld, a dispatcher at ESA.

The four meat processing companies of the VanDrie Group (ESA, Ekro, T. Boer & zn and Ameco) together provide employment to about 900 people (excluding agency workers). The companies are official approved work placement companies. A work placement company is officially responsible for the implementation of the practical occupational training that forms part of a senior secondary vocational education course (mbo-opleiding). In a work placement company, students are introduced to the practical working environment and learn what is expected of them. The work within the meat processing companies is partly automated, but at certain points is still labour-intensive and requires skilled workmanship. In addition, the requirements with regard to traceability and food safety place high demands on employees. That is why the VanDrie Group develops tailor-made senior secondary vocational education courses and training programmes for its employees in collaboration with vocational training organisations, such as SVO vakopleiding food. Sem Pieper, a production worker at Ekro and Bert Bosveld, a dispatcher at ESA, are currently completing a number of levels of the senior secondary vocational training course ‘medewerker versindustrie’ (fresh produce industry employee) with Jan Snijders from SVO, the Dutch training organisation for professionals in the food sector. They are doing this within the context of the Dutch block or day-release programme (beroepsbegeleidende leerweg, BBL), in which working is combined with learning. The three of them talk about their motives.

Working at a meat processing company is unknown territory for many people. How did you end up in this sector?

Jan: ‘I had already had a holiday job in a slaughterhouse when I was 13 and I was able to go to the professional college for butchery when I was 16. If you are open to it and seize your opportunities, it is a wonderful profession in which to develop. I helped with emergency slaughters at the weekends. These are slaughters of healthy animals that cannot be transported to the slaughterhouse for welfare reasons. You didn’t receive anything for that, but you did learn a lot from it.

Following a period of working as an artisan butcher and inspector and after various other jobs in the business sector, I started working at SVO in 2007. It is really nice to share all the experience I have gained with students. It is important that the knowledge in our profession is safeguarded.’

Bert Bosveld

Bert: I wanted to work in slaughterhouses from an early age, because my father worked there. In the early 1990s, it was still fairly easy to leave school without any qualifications and you could still get a job in the slaughterhouse and receive a good wage straight away. I’m now 45 and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I just really like it. My colleagues and my work at ESA.’

I’m now 45 and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I just really like it. My colleagues and my work at ESA.’

Bert Bosveld

Sem: ‘I also followed my father’s footsteps just like Bert. My father currently works for ESA. I became interested in the profession through a holiday job and was able to start working at Ekro in June 2020. At that time, I was only 16 and still of school age. The senior secondary vocational training course seemed like a fun thing to do and that’s how I met Jan Snijders from the SVO.’

VanDrie Group is always looking for skilled workers, just like many other companies in the meat sector. Do you see your work as a skilled trade?

Sem Pieper

Bert: ‘Where I’m currently working, you don’t really need the strict skills of the trade. The meat has already been processed by the time it reaches dispatch and we get it ready for transportation. A lot is done digitally and no longer involves any heavy labour. It may not be the most skilled work, therefore, but it must be done meticulously. We check the products carefully to ensure they meet the quality requirements set. In addition, we devote attention to preventing condensation in the shipments. We constantly fill in checklists for that. It involves a very broad range of tasks.’

Sem: ‘I think it’s a great feeling to make a beautiful piece of high-quality product from a piece of meat that was part of a calf. If we have to make schnitzels from the topside and there is still some flank attached, for example, then we trim that neatly. And if there is still a sinew or a bit of fat, that also has to be removed. We then freeze the topside and portion them by machine. You are preparing real meat for customers. You have to remove the membranes and cut neatly. That is a craft. At present, I’m mainly deployed at Ekro for processing the meat and there’s actually a lot to learn in that job.’

 I think it’s a great feeling to make a beautiful piece of high-quality product from a piece of meat that was part of a calf. 

Sem Pieper

Jan: ‘Yes, I see our work as a skilled trade. Killing in an animal must be done in a respectful, skilful way. Animal welfare is one of the important topics in our profession and within the training course. Treating the animals in an animal-friendly way is something which the consumer expects of us. Moreover, good animal welfare has a positive effect on the quality of the meat. My opinion is that you always have to closely monitor the welfare of the animals that you slaughter. That’s why you have to continue providing employees with training in animal welfare.’

Why did you choose to pick up your education once again?

Bert: ‘First of all, because of my children. I always impress on them, ‘get your school diplomas’. However, they rightly said: Yes but Dad, you don’t have a diploma do you?’. There is, of course, some truth to that. Secondly, I want to develop myself further now in my role at ESA, but also as a professional. If I keep doing the same thing too long, I start getting bored. I want to continue expanding my knowledge and would prefer to be all over the place in the production location and be able to do everything. At the moment, I mainly work in front of a computer and that’s simply not for me in the long term. And if anything ever happens with the company, I will then have those certificates in my pocket.’

Sem: ‘I am still very young and therefore find learning easy. This training course actually provides you with useful knowledge about the profession and it makes you aware of your responsibility in areas such as food safety, for example. You learn about the risks and gain a better insight into the process. So, should something go wrong in spite of everything, you are also able to take action if there is no supervisor. It is also about leadership and about how that works.’

What do you learn in this training course?

Bert: ‘I have gained more respect for the company and for all the types of processes you have to work with. I have also gained an insight into how the chain works and into all the things you need to do before you’re allowed to start processing meat. You may think, ‘they’re just going to slaughter’, but there are so many other things involved. Everything is done with respect here and if you don’t treat animals respectfully, you can immediately pack your bags. The company is not for you in that case. That was already my view before this training course actually. As a matter of fact, I was a volunteer at the Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals for a while and if I saw abuses at the ESA, I wouldn’t mince my words.’

Sem: ‘I’m currently doing Level 3 of the vocational training course. As a result of that, I am increasing my financial understanding and knowledge about logistics. You learn about care systems and you have to write an improvement plan.’

Jan Snijders

We provide training in the profession, but we also show what happens both upstream and downstream within the chain. 

Jan Snijders

Jan: We provide training in the profession, but we also show what happens both upstream and downstream within the chain. We went deboning ourselves. It was a case of learning what can be found where. We visited the guys at DrieVeld, the research centre of the VanDrie Group, in order to learn more about calf husbandry and to take part in a cooking workshop. The lessons in deboning came in handy there, as it’s important to know what can be found where in the carcass, because that is partly determines the preparation method. Preparing the veal was, of course, followed by the tasting. There are a lot of differences between the technical elements of texture, taste, mouthfeel and bite. For me, it’s about sharing experiences. Ultimately, you see a professional in front of you. If my students are successful, I enjoy that.’

Will you continue studying?

Bert: ‘Absolutely. I want to continue developing myself as much as possible. And by working at VanDrie Group, I’m fortunate to be given the opportunity to do so. By doing Level 3, I can become a working supervisor. I’m currently a deputy supervisor whenever my boss is not there, but I can fulfil that role officially by obtaining my diploma.

Sem: ‘I want to continue developing and studying. I would also like to do Level 4. It’s not yet certain I can do that, but I believe that it’s possible at the VanDrie Group.’