Wisconsin’s Meat Talent Development Program is on the fast track


Wisconsin’s Meat Talent Development Program is on the fast track

A Wisconsin effort to get more people trained as meat processors is developing rapidly.  Betsy Leonard with the Wisconsin Technical College System tells Brownfield the Meat Talent Development Program partnership with the state’s ag department has moved from an idea to a program rapidly.  “It is not very easy to start a conversation in January and have programming come to fruition in that same August, or in that same calendar or fiscal year and a lot of our nine colleges are looking at starting this programming already this fall in some sort of manner.”

Betsy Leonard

Thanks to funding from the state budget and 50 million dollars from federal pandemic relief funds, Leonard says the Meat Talent Development Program offers tuition reimbursement.  “It is reimbursed for our students.  It is not required that they go through the full certificate.  If, say, for example, a business or industry has employees that need additional skills, they can send those employees for that training.”

And, Leonard says most students are part-time, which means many of them are not eligible for financial aid, so having tuition reimbursement for the meat talent program can be a game changer.  “With this programming that’s being started, they’re starting it as a certificate which is not financial aid eligible for our students, so having them come in and giving them the opportunity to receive these classes and tuition reimbursement to make sure they’re receiving the education to get to their ultimate goal is not only an incentive for our students but it’s a great thing for the State of Wisconsin, connecting our students with the business and industry who need that.”

Leonard says students will have to complete the courses to have them reimbursed and to be eligible for additional reimbursable courses.  “We do have students who have been calling and the word is getting out that this money is available.  Governor Evers announced it in January, and so the question has been what’s happening with it?  Now we know what’s happening with it.”

Leonard says they are now working with the state to design and purchase three mobile meat processing trailers that can be shared by the nine technical colleges, bringing processing to area farmers while training students.  That’s in addition to equipping and staffing the campuses and assisting Auburndale and Pittsville high schools with equipment to use in their dual credit programs.  “Mid-State Technical College is one of the nine (technical colleges) who are participating in this process and they have a really great partnership with those two schools for their dual-credit opportunities, and I know they’ve had conversations with both, and the discussion has been brought forward to provide that training for high school students and opening that up to the public.”

Chef Brock Decker

Chef Brock Decker is an instructor in the culinary arts programs at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau.  He tells Brownfield he’s excited about the prospect of helping set up students for a meat processing career in about eight or nine months.  He’s also excited to see the campus add meat processing, completing the chain between the college’s farm and its food service training. “It really brings everything together, the opportunity to see production from the seed all the way onto the table, and that’s pretty impressive from a technical school standpoint,”  Decker says the Northcentral Technical College farm is an integral part of the culinary arts program.  “We’re really proud of it.  Each year, they grow us a beef animal, and all of their milk goes to Mullins Cheese.  We get the cheese back and we use it in our program.  All of the cheese, all of the beef, and then the pork that we get in as well end up being turned into products for our (in school) restaurants.”

The Meat Talent Development Program is in addition to the state’s meat processor grants, which invested 200 thousand from the state budget and ten million in federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars to help processors upgrade and expand.