Cherise Redden is at the top of her game, having just been crowned Young Butcher of the Year. But, as the butchery assistant at PAK'nSAVE Glen Innes told Newshub, working in the trade wasn’t planned; it was something she "sort of fell into".
"I had no real aspirations or goals and an opportunity as a meat packer came up through [NZ master butcher] Riki Kerekere'," she said.
"Once I saw what people could do with their skills, I was really interested to get in there and give it a go!"
The Ngapuhi mother has been working at PAK'nSAVE since December 2020 and last month took the Young Butcher of the Year title during the competition at Auckland's Vodafone Events Centre.
Once she started competitions Redden found her inner foodie, enjoying "the whole process of turning simple cuts of meat into these creative, mouth-watering meals".
One of the country's celebrated young butchers, Redden's success story is just one of many throughout PAK'nSAVE's parent co-op Foodstuffs. The NZ-owned supermarket co-operative supports training and apprenticeship programmes as part of its ongoing commitment to be #HereforNZ, and its promise to provide meaningful work.
Shaping meaningful careers is essential for a thriving New Zealand and Foodstuffs is focused on investing in their team members, offering exciting opportunities for career building in an essential industry, as thousands of Kiwis across the country are forced to rethink their next steps thanks to largely closed borders and worldwide job shortages.
Like the COVID-19 virus itself, there's no simple immunity to the skill shortage, which is affecting employment around the globe, from fruit pickers and truck drivers to warehouse employees. It's a problem that has direct knock-on effects across the food industry and it's inevitable that this will threaten a rise in food prices.
Tackling the nationwide skills shortage head-on, Foodstuffs offers in-store apprenticeships, training programs and on-ground mentoring, as well as opportunities for leadership and health and safety education nationwide.
Fostering talent and offering career opportunities is a core component of Foodstuffs' Here for NZ meaningful work promise.
Kerri Nicholas, 2IC in the bakery department at New World Stoke, completed the bakery apprenticeship, following a passion for baking that she's had since she was young.
"I didn't know what I wanted to do and I just ended up here, I think that’s been half the fun," she says.
"I started on bread slicing two days a week then was thrown in the deep end and told I'd start baking. I was told it would be a two-year wait to get to that point and it was only two months, so I realised this was something I was good at.
"The apprenticeship definitely gave me confidence. I never really enjoyed school, so having a job like this that I enjoy is great. And during the apprenticeship I had people supporting me along the way, and Glen and Mel [New World Stoke owners] have been very supportive."
According to Wendy Hammonds, Foodstuffs North Island general manager of people and capability, taking a position in a supermarket stacking shelves can be a jumping-off point for a lifelong career.
By investing in employees like Redden and Nicholas, Hammonds says Foodstuffs is giving people the skills to take them through their entire careers, either through their chosen co-op or beyond.
"We get lots of different types of people - often young people but also those later in life - looking for a change," she explains. "We strive to provide coaching and opportunities for all our talented team members so they can have a very rewarding career with us."
The mentoring and coaching received on the ground through the co-operative mean team members have a myriad of opportunities at their fingertips; Hammonds says she's seen some of them "go all the way through and become owner-operators".
"So the really cool part about it is that, as we are an 100% New Zealand owned co-op, the store owners are all working shoulder to shoulder with their teams, seeing and recognising talent come through, and they're suggesting 'hey, why don't you go on that training course'.
"We've got owners and managers who started as trolley people, butchers and bakers, or stacking shelves."
The chance for such widespread growth is something that butcher Cherise Redden says she wasn't expecting.
"I actually never expected the growth that came from my choice in career," she told Newshub.
"I found progression within my trade through the business aspect, also dealing with all sorts of different people and learning how to cater to their diversities.
"Since I joined PAK'nSAVE, I have been given a lot of opportunities to not only learn these aspects but also put them into practice on a daily basis - and practice makes perfect!"
And to those at a life crossroads or considering their next steps? Hammonds says her message to them - and perhaps their parents - is "don't be me".
"Looking back on my youth, I didn't get the job in the supermarket - I just didn't have the foresight to see the career that was available," she reflects. "So my advice is, see that job in the supermarket as a career that offers a great sense of community. If you aspire to be a part of our business, maybe you'll end up owning your own business."
"It doesn't matter what lights your fire, there will be something for you."
Those interested in hearing more about career and training opportunities with Foodstuffs can find out more on the Foodstuffs North Island and Foodstuffs South Island websites or get in touch with your nearest local store.
This article was created for Foodstuffs.