The Job and What's Involved

Butchers prepare and sell a broad variety of meat and poultry products. Along with traditional cuts of meat, they may sell marinated products for barbeques in the summer and specialist varieties such as kosher meats or gluten-free products.

Most butchers work in retail. This could be in a High Street butcher's shop or on the meat counter in a supermarket. They usually work in a small team with other butchers. The job is a mixture of product preparation and customer service. Tasks are likely to include:

  • Advising customers about different cuts and how to cook them.
  • Using a variety of specialist knives to skilfully cut, de-bone, slice and trim meat and poultry.
  • Visiting markets and taking deliveries from suppliers.
  • Ordering in stock and checking it when it is delivered.
  • Organising window or refrigerator displays.
  • Designing and printing recipes.
  • Providing a delivery service to customers.

Butchers also work on the wholesale side. In this part of the industry the butcher deals with the carcasses that arrive from abattoirs, preparing and storing the meat before it is sent on to retailers or wholesale customers (such as hotels and restaurants).

Most butchers work 39 to 40 hours a week, including Saturdays. Work usually starts early, as it is common for deliveries to arrive from 7am. If a butcher works for a supermarket hours may be more varied as they usually work on a rota system, which can include evenings and Sundays. Overtime and part-time work may be available.

Retail butchers work in a shop environment and chilled storage areas, where they use trolleys and hoists to move the stock around. The serving areas are also kept at a controlled, cool temperature.

Butchers may cut and trim meat in front of customers using implements such as steak and boning knives, saws and cleavers, or at the rear of the shop where there are special cutting surfaces. They usually have to wear protective clothing, including an apron and disposable gloves.

The work involves long periods of standing, as well as lifting and carrying heavy joints of meat. It may not be suitable for people with allergies and skin conditions.

Starting salaries may be around £7,200 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 40,000 butchers currently working in the UK. Butchers work throughout the country, in supermarkets, butcher's shops and meat wholesalers. The Meat Hygiene Service also employs qualified butchers to check standards in abattoirs and meat plants. There remains a national shortage of people with the right skills.

Jobs may be advertised in local newspapers, Jobcentre Plus offices and Connexions centres, and in periodicals such as the Meat Trades Journal, Meat and Poultry News, Food Trader for Butchers and Food Manufacture. Vacancies are also listed on specialist websites such as www.foodmanjobs.co.uk.

Education and Training

No formal qualifications are needed to become a butcher. However, employers are likely to look for a certain level of literacy and numeracy. This may be demonstrated through the achievement of GCSE's/S grades (A-E/1-5) in English, maths and a science subject. Some employers may set aptitude tests.

Work experience in retail or in some area of the food and drink industry is also advantageous.

Many young people start their training through an Apprenticeship scheme.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most butchers train on the job. Employers may provide the opportunity to work towards relevant qualifications, such as:

  • NVQ's/SVQ's in Meat and Poultry Processing at Levels 1
    and 2.
  • Food safety qualifications (that take into account European Union hygiene regulations).

The Meat Training Council (MTC) offers a number of relevant qualifications, including the:

  • Intermediate Certificate in Meat and Poultry.
  • Intermediate Certificate in Meat and Poultry Management.
  • Intermediate Certificate in Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) - this is a technique for checking food safety.

The professional body for butchers is the Worshipful Company of Butchers, which offers membership according to an individual's level of qualifications.

Experienced butchers, or those seeking promotion to management, can take additional qualifications such as the Scottish Federation of Meat Traders' Craftsman Certificate and Diploma. The MTC also offers a Management Development Programme in Meat and Poultry for team leader, supervisor and manager levels.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A butcher must:

  • Be practical and precise.
  • Be safety-conscious when using sharp hand tools and machinery.
  • Have a professional approach to health and hygiene.
  • Have good customer service skills.
  • Maintain good relationships with suppliers.
  • Have excellent knowledge of different products and cuts of meat.
  • Be clean and tidy.
  • Have the ability to work well in a team.
  • Have cash-handling skills for taking payments.
  • Be reliable and punctual.

Your Long Term Prospects

Supermarkets and retail chains offer good opportunities for promotion and career development.

Alternatively, an experienced butcher may be able to set up their own retail outlet. Retail butchers may move into meat catering, meat manufacturing or meat wholesale.

Get Further Information

British Meat Processors Association,
12 Cock Lane, London EC1A 9BU
Tel: 020 7329 0776
Website: www.bmpa.uk.com

Improve Ltd, Ground Floor, Providence House,
2 Innovation Close, Heslington, York YO10 5ZF
Tel: 0845 644 0448
Website: www.improveltd.co.uk

Meat Hygiene Service, MHS Headquarters,
Kings Pool, Peasholme Green, York YO1 7PR
Tel: 01904 455501
Website: ww.food.gov.uk

Meat Training Council (MTC), PO Box 141,
Winterhill House, Snowdon Drive, Milton Keynes MK6 1YY
Tel: 01908 231062
Website: www.meattraining.org.uk

Scottish Federation of Meat Traders,
8-10 Needless Road, Perth PH2 0JW
Tel: 01738 637472
Website: www.sfmta.co.uk

Scottish Meat Training, 8-10 Needless Road, Perth PH2 0JW
Tel: 01738 637785
Website: www.meattraining.net

The Worshipful Company of Butchers,
Butchers' Hall, 87 Bartholomew Close, London EC1A 7EB
Tel: 020 7606 4106
Website: www.butchershall.com

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