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July 22nd, 2015

Butchery apprentice is a step ahead of the competition

Hohepa Smith is pretty handy with a carving knife. Before becoming a butchery apprentice in 2013 for Countdown Meat and Livestock based at Auckland’s Otahuhu meat plant, Hohepa had a head start. “I’ve been in the meat industry for almost nine years prior to my apprenticeship,” he says. “I already had the knife skills and knew what cuts to make.”

The 31-year-old Aucklander won the Competenz Butcher Apprentice category at the recent Upper North Island Butcher of the Year competition where he bet 18 other apprentices. Now in the second year of his apprenticeship, his background in the meat industry has helped greatly towards being a butchery apprentice.

“I completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of Waikato, worked at the Otahuhu meat plant for Countdown, and pursued a career in beef boning in Australia before coming back home and taking on the apprenticeship,” he says.

“There were flyers and posters on the noticeboard about the apprenticeship programme so I decided to go through with it. I wanted to further my skills and knowledge in the butchery business. There’s a whole other side that I didn’t even know about.”

The butchery apprenticeship offers practical and theory-based tasks and assessments over a three-year programme.

“I’ve learnt a lot about gourmet-style cutting, spicing of the meat and cooking,” he says. “I’ve learnt so much about the meat industry such as the anatomy of an animal, health and safety, and so much more.”

The management team at Countdown Meat and Livestock have been supportive of Hohepa and his fellow apprentices from the beginning.

“Riki Kerekere and the whole management crew have been one hundred percent supportive of us,” he says.

“They’ve given us all the tools and the information we need to follow through on our apprenticeship. With all our tasks and assessments, they’ve always been here for us. Every Wednesday we get two hours to do all our assessments. That’s paid time off work to just study. It’s been pretty awesome working for Countdown.”

Senior Operations Manager for Countdown Meat and Livestock, Riki Kerekere, said it’s been a pleasure training Hohepa.

“Out of the five apprentices we currently have, Hohepa has the strongest skill set,” Riki says. “He’s very committed and focused on every aspect of the training. He’s an outstanding performer and one of our top apprentices. It’s been a pleasure to train him.”

Hohepa and Riki took part in the Competenz-commissioned research report; Helping Māori and Pasifika learners build their skills in the workplace in 2014 to help better understand how Māori and Pasifika learners can build their skills and careers. Hohepa believes more Māori and Pasifika people should take on a butchery apprenticeship.

“I think the butchery apprenticeship is a good idea, especially for our young Māori and Pasifika people,” Hohepa says. “If it helps them do better for themselves, then I think the butchery apprenticeship is a good direction and a good industry to get into.”

Hohepa’s advice for fledging butchery apprentices?

“Work hard, listen to your managers, always listen to the guys you look up to. Just stick to it and you’ll eventually get there.”

The Alto Young Butcher and Competenz Butcher of the Year finals are taking place on 10 September at Shed 10 in Auckland.