JBS lures Lismore native back to his roots
WORTHINGTON -- A Career Leadership Opportunity (CLO) program at JBS in Worthington is meant to encourage and nurture future leaders in the pork processing plant, but it's also creating an unexpected benefit -- keeping young southwest Minnesota residents from leaving the area.
Matt Altman, a Lismore native, is a perfect example of that. During his senior year at South Dakota State University, Altman applied to the CLO program at JBS. After a lengthy interview with a panel of five managers at the facility, he was selected for the six-month, on-the-job training program.
Pete Charboneau, training and retention manager at JBS, said versions of the program have been in place at the processing facility for approximately 16 years. One of the program's first graduates is now a product manager on the first shift, and other graduates work throughout the plant.
"The CLO program was designed to give a person the overall view of the plant," he said, adding that participants spend time in each area, from production and product management to scheduling, maintenance, safety and health. "It allows individuals to network throughout the facility and understand the positions. It also gives them a sense of watching our existing management team and understanding the different management aspects of the job."
Most of the CLO participants are hired right out of college, but Charboneau said some employees have even applied for, and completed, the leadership program as well. As the mentor to the two or three CLO participants each year, he said they develop the tools necessary to manage people in their department.
"Not everybody is a great fit," he cautioned. "We want to make sure we get the right people. It always helps to get people who love the area and want to stay in the area."
Altman, who graduated from Adrian High School and earned his degree from SDSU in meat science in May 2011, was one of the "right fits" for the company.
"Matt was an exceptional CLO," said Charboneau. "Matt definitely shows that he could be a future leader of this company. It's refreshing to see (the CLO participants) grow."
Altman worked at the meat locker in Lismore while in high school, and it was about that time that he realized he wanted to focus on a career in agriculture.
"I was going to base my direction toward animal nutrition when I was going to college," he said. "Then I started working in the meat lab (at SDSU) and realized how much broader the field of meat science was."
The college offered an entire curriculum based around meat science, and Altman took all of the classes. He also worked in the SDSU Meat Lab, where students processed beef, lamb and pork, made further processed products and marketed them to customers two days a week.
"From (working at) the locker, I didn't have a lot of experience in how to cut, but by the time I left (SDSU), I was comfortable with all of the three species," he said.
In addition to working in the meat lab, Altman was instrumental in establishing the Meat Science Club at SDSU in 2008. He served as president of the club that first year.
"Throughout the last three years, it really developed," he said. "We were mostly involved with exposing those new animal science kids and even existing ones to the field of meat science. We had a lot of connections because other students had internships as well. It really allowed for more networking to go on."
The club conducted fundraisers, reselling ground beef, steaks and pork loins purchased at a reduced cost, and earned enough money to fund a Meat Science Club trip to the American Meat Institute in Chicago, Ill., in 2010.
Altman also served on the SDSU meats judging team in 2008-2009, which taught him even more about meat science.
The summers after Altman's freshman, sophomore and junior years were spent learning, too, as he completed internships at John Morrell in Sioux Falls, S.D., Jennie-O in Willmar, and at Tyson Fresh Meats in Dakota City, Neb., respectively.
At John Morrell, he was tasked with quality assurance of cooked product, recording the lethality of salmonella and making sure sausages, hot dogs and other cooked products had reached an internal temperature high enough to kill the bacteria. Then, at Jennie-O, he worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service as an online inspector at the turkey processing facility.
The summer of 2010 was spent at Tyson Fresh Meats' beef processing facility as a carcass merchandiser. In that role, he was responsible for determining if the quality grade given to each carcass by the USDA's Ag Marketing Service was in line with set standards.
"As a company, you have a right to look at (the carcasses) and if you feel the quality grade is different, you can have it railed off and the inspectors will look at it again," Altman said.
In addition, he was responsible for sorting the carcasses into different programs. Some companies that purchased product wanted a certain carcass type, and it was his job to group those carcasses by what the customers wanted.
"I learned a lot from each of my internships," he said. "I learned I didn't want to be an inspector. It wasn't the most desirable job to me -- I wanted to be out and moving around."
It was during his sophomore year, at a career fair, that Altman visited with representatives from JBS in Worthington.
"I interviewed, but I didn't get a job with them that summer because the CLO program really targets seniors graduating," Altman said.
In December 2010, Altman interviewed again with JBS. This time he not only was offered a position before he left the interview, he immediately accepted it as well.
"I always had it in the back of my mind to work there," Altman said. "Doing the plant tour and meeting some of the people reassured my thoughts. It's really unique when it comes to the meat industry. It's JBS' flagship plant -- being the best the company has. It's kind of neat to work for the largest protein producer in the world, and work at their best pork plant."
Altman joined the CLO program at JBS right after graduating from SDSU in May 2011, under the guidance of Charboneau.
"It's really a customized program," Altman said. "It's really specifically set up to your interests, although they still want you to see everything in the plant and get the wide scope of the business."
He was most interested in the production aspect of working at JBS, and was looking for a role as supervisor.
"Not everyone has the leadership skills to be able to handle something like that," he said, adding that he received "specific supervisor training" through the CLO program.
"The program is what you're going to make of it," he said. "You're working a lot of hours and it's not easy work, but if you're willing to put in the time and learn -- give the extra effort -- you're going to get a lot more out of it."
Charboneau said a job offer is not a guarantee when an intern completes the CLO program, although most of those who have spent the six months in training typically do end up working at the facility.
"Typically they get a leadership role, but it's not a God-given (you're offered one) when you're done," Charboneau said. "You have to show that passion, the JBS values."
While Charboneau mentors each one of the CLO program participants, he said a lot of weight is on them.
"They must put forth the effort, have a passion for the business and want to exceed in it," he said. "They need to make good decisions."
When selecting candidates for the CLO program, Charboneau said they look for people who have been involved in college -- not just attended one and earned good grades.
"It's one thing to have a signed document that you graduated from school, it's another to see that you were involved," he said. "It's really nice to see a strong resume, whether it's internships or experiences -- involvement in 4-H and different things."
For people already employed by JBS, Charboneau posts information about the CLO program to gauge interest from within the facility. Those selected, whether internally or externally, are recognized as already having leadership skills.
"We try to bring that out -- give them the confidence to challenge things," he said. "It's OK to ask questions.
"The people that come into this program are somewhat envied by some of the management (personnel)," he added. "It's really a great program."
CLO program participants are expected to give Charboneau weekly reports about what they learned each week, and a trio of other managers also meet with the participant weekly.
"We always talk to the job shadows to see how the week went," he added. "Communication is a huge part of their job when (the CLO recruit) becomes a supervisor."
Altman steps up
In January, just a couple of months after completing the CLO program, Altman was offered a job as supervisor of JBS' new trim-blend room. He works on second shift, coming in to work by 3:30 or 4:30 p.m., depending on the week, and working typically until 1 a.m. He supervises a staff of seven.
"This is a new room and the employees I have are almost all relatively new to the company," he said. "I'm learning things as we go on the supervisory level, and also learning how to run this room. It's one of the smallest departments of the plant."
The trim-blend room serves as an intake for all of the trimmings from each department of the plant. They come in already sorted based on lean percentages, and are placed in various batches. Revolutionary technology is used to accurately assess trimmings coming in.
"It goes along with the company spending money to better their business," said Altman. "They're not afraid to spend money and invest in their business. It's nice to see that they're not just after the profit, that they really want to grow the business.
"I really enjoy working for JBS -- knowing the owner is out for the company's well-being, not the dollars," he added.
After the product is x-rayed, it is chilled to a shipping temperature. The product is sold primarily to sausage makers or used in lunch meats, hot dogs and pork sausage -- basically anyone who utilizes pork trim.
At the end of each day, Altman compiles a report that details how many pounds of trim ran through the trim-blend room that day, as well as other production details.
"I like the challenges that it presents every day," said Altman. "The meat industry is my passion. It isn't hard for me to get up and go to work every day."
Altman, who now lives in Ocheyedan, Iowa, and is engaged to be married in June, said he could potentially spend his entire career at JBS.