Aimee – Butcher Apprenticeship

Case Study


McFarlane Family Butchers Ltd.


Level 2 Butchery Apprenticeship
What skills, behaviours and knowledge have you learnt on the apprenticeship?

“Since working at McFarlane’s, I have acquired skills and knowledge which I never thought I would. I kind of fell into the job at the back end of covid. I have known Stuart since moving to Barnard Castle in 2014 and taking on a pub. I started serving meals and I sourced all my meat from McFarlane’s butchers as I wanted as many ingredients as possible sourced locally.

Covid struck, and working in a pub meant that work was never certain, as pubs were one of the trades that were deemed to be high risk during the pandemic. Just after Christmas, 2021, the pubs had been closed again and Stuart was advertising for an apprentice/staff member, so I messaged him to say I was interested…I don’t think he thought I was serious! Anyway, I started working there 2 days a week and instantly loved it. No two days are ever the same, there was so much to learn, not just serving customers, but also learning how to make the “specials,” (our value-added products.) This is something I still enjoy doing, especially as Stuart gives me free rein to create new products for our displays.

After a few months, I asked about the apprenticeship, the pubs had reopened but it was table service and people had less manners… Anyway, to cut a long story short, I started working at McFarlane’s full-time, and not long after that I started my apprenticeship. My customer service skills have diversified, for most of my life I have been dealing with customers in a public house, and as a manager, sometimes they were drunk and challenging, now customers are generally sober (but can be just as troublesome).

I have enjoyed building relationships with McFarlane’s customers and gaining their trust. The knowledge that I have gained, is knowledge that I never thought I would. I have loved the whole of my apprenticeship, learning about butchery from the very start of the process, right through to the end. Although the slaughter process isn’t a particularly nice thing to think about, learning about all the legislation that is in place to protect the animals, and making sure they are treated properly right up until they are killed. As meat eaters, I think we should care about where our meat is from and how it was treated before it was slaughtered. I have learnt knife skills, animal anatomy, how to price up products, create new products, and make sausages, burgers, pies…

I have learnt how to break down rabbits, deer and geese that have been brought in by local gamekeepers and farmers. I couldn’t wait to start my apprenticeship, the geek in me was looking forward to learning again as I had been working in, and managing pubs since I left uni.”

What are the benefits of learning with Optimum Skills?
“The benefit of learning with Optimum Skills was definitely the knowledge and support I got from my tutor Fran. Throughout my apprenticeship, Fran was always positive and encouraging. I had a devastating and traumatic experience happen part of the way through my course and had some absence from work, but I was told not to worry and take as much time as I needed, and Fran looked into any extra support that was available for me. I felt that I had support and advice available to me whenever I needed it. Another benefit of learning with Optimum Skills was that Fran came out to see me in my workplace, this helped with my confidence as it was an environment that I was used to being in and a place where I can be myself, but I also don’t drive, so travelling anywhere else just wouldn’t have been an option for me.”

How has your tutor helped you to progress?

“As I mentioned before, Fran helped and supported me throughout my apprenticeship, giving me gentle encouragement or a kick up the bum when I needed it.”

What have you enjoyed the most?

“I thoroughly enjoyed doing my apprenticeship, especially learning about all the different aspects of the business. From working on the counter, learning about butchery, being taught how to fill and link sausages, learning how to make homemade pies and working for a proper family-run butcher’s shop. But I have also loved learning about the other aspects of butchery. From the history of how butcher shops and tools have changed through time, how different cuts of meat fall in and out of popularity due to trends on the tv and internet and building on my knowledge of cooking methods and recipes. I have enjoyed gaining new skills and knowledge and building good relationships in the workplace.”

What impact has your apprenticeship had on you?

“My apprenticeship has had a massive impact on me, both academically and mentally. I have acquired skills and knowledge that I never dreamt I would, but my apprenticeship also helped my mental health immensely. About 5 months into my apprenticeship, something terrible happened, but as well as the support I received, it gave me something to focus on, to keep my mind busy and something to work towards in the future. Before I started working at McFarlane’s, I was a bit lost on my career path, I’d been managing pubs for years and didn’t feel that I could progress any further in that trade, but I really had no idea what I wanted to do next. I never thought that training to be, and becoming a butcher would be one of those options, but I thoroughly enjoy it. There are always new things to learn, and I can also implement my creative side. I have no plans to leave McFarlane’s, but I would like to help Stuart to continue to grow his business. I am very proud of what I have achieved, and that is also down to Fran and the McFarlane family, it has helped to improve my self-confidence and has given me a new path in life.”

How have you progressed since completing your apprenticeship?

“I have only recently had my results, but since finding out I have passed, I feel a lot more confident at work. I think that having an official result on paper has confirmed that I do actually know what I am doing, and not doubting myself so much.”

What advice would you give to someone else thinking about going into the meat industry?

“Go for it!! If you’re having doubts, have a bit of faith in yourself!”

Would you recommend Optimum Skills to someone else?

“Yes, I found Optimum Skills excellent, especially if they are all like Fran! Nothing was ever too much trouble; she went out of her way to give me any additional help and support that I needed. She had plenty of patience and empathy, and I honestly don’t think there was anything more that she could have done for me.”

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