Wilf Shingoose

Corporate Profile: Mitchell's Gourmet Foods

By John Lagimodiere

Reprinted with permission from
Eagle Feather News - September 1999 - pg.12

Wilf Shingoose, Mitchell's FoodsMitchell's Gourmet Foods Inc. (formerly Intercontinental Packers (1997) Ltd.) is Canada's third largest full-line processor of pork and pork products, with annual sales of approximately $300 million. Mitchell's Gourmet Foods is a major contributor to Saskatchewan's economy. The company's 1470 employees receive annual salary and benefits of more than $35 million. The company also purchases more than $16 million worth of goods and services each year to supply its Saskatoon mega-plant. It is estimated, that Mitchell's Saskatoon plant contributes nearly $690 million a year to the Saskatchewan economy. It is success like this that made Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) Chief, Perry Bellegarde and SaskEnergy President, Ronald S. Clark approach Mitchell's to be members of the FSIN Corporate Circle.

Prior to the formation of the Corporate Circle, Mitchell's had no specific policy to hire or attract Aboriginal employees. That all changed when Chief Bellegarde and Ronald Clark approached Mitchell's President Stu Irvine. "Both Ron and Perry came here and game me a commentary on what the future held for First Nation people and the participation that industry should seriously take a look at," Irvine stated.

"The future shows that First Nation people will be a large part of our workforce. We should be involved because it is important for our future growth. We want to be on the ground floor of this project since we are the largest private employer in the province (1470 people), lots of our jobs need only a grade ten education or above and with in house programs for training, we thought we would be a perfect fit. We want to be able to give everybody an equal opportunity, and I want to stress that equality opportunity, to have a career here in our organization."

With the Corporate Circle, though Irvine stated it never stopped them from hiring First Nation people in the past, there is a greater awareness between the Human Resource department and the plant manager to put their best foot forward to work with First Nations and to learn about some of the inhibitions they may have about coming into the plant and how to deal with those issues once they are employed. "The round table discussions held by the Circle will give us a vehicle to contact different First Nations to try and put programs together to try and make people available to us. There are differences in culture here and we have to create a culture within our organization that makes employees feel comfortable and not intimidated," Irvine stated. "We are not even scratching the surface of opportunity here. As a corporate citizen, we want this project to work for us and for any of the First Nation people who would like to work here."

Marv Le-Nabat, director of Human Resources for Mitchell's believes they are prepared for an influx of new employees. All employees have equal access to their peer support system. "Anyone with any kind of problem can go to the employees with a butterfly on their hardhat. This is the symbol for our support group. They are trained to help employees with their troubles. We are trying to set something up with our First Nation employees as well" Le-Nabat said. Irvine believes that the most important people in the Circle are going to be the HR managers who control labor. They point out that they have problemes with all different types of employees, work problems are work problems. The crux comes in understanding the culture of First Nation people, and the things that the corporations can do to accommodate that difference.

Wilf Shingoose, from the Cote First Nation, a long-time valued employee of Mitchell's, likes what they have to offer. "The work is hard, but not too bad," he says. "The bosses are good and they treat you fairly. I have never seen a case of discrimination and you make lots of friends, it is very non-clique." At his job, deboning hogs, the work is hard and he suffers the occasional sore wrist, but it is worth it. Some people say the job is boring, but if you get enthused, it is not so bad. If the motivation is there (to go into management) the opportunity is too."

The best perk of the job for Wilf is the excellent family discounts on Mitchell's products, the great hours and time off if you really need it. The worst part is the fact that the plant isn't on Reserve land and he has to pay income tax.

Mitchell's is a family run business with a great emphasis on in house promotions. Many of the people in key positions have worked their way up from the floor to the corporate level. Stu Irvine has 34 years under his belt, Marv Le-Nabat in HR has over 25 years and Ralph Kaay, plant superintendent, also has over 30 years. They were also all involved in the union at one time. This creates an atmosphere of teamwork. The bosses are familiar with all aspects of the plant and jobs included within. No ivory towers here. All they are interested in is one thing. Can the employee perform the job function for them? Simple. If you do that, doors will open.

Plant employees currently start at $8.00 per hour. All new hires are also given full time hours, which is a bit of an anomaly in today's world of using part-time employees. After six months of continuous employment, all employees are eligible for one of the best benefit packages in the province. This, coupled with an excellent working partnership with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union that represents the employees, makes Mitchell's a highly desirable choice for a job.

Stu Irvine is a strong believer in the motto it is not who you are, but what you do. Irvine also believes in the Corporate Circle. "I think it is commitment from the business community in this province to create the atmosphere within their operations to get First Nation people employed." Ralph Kaay sees it as an opportunity to tap into a resource. "The more good people we have working for us, the more successful we will be as a company. Whatever way we can do that most efficiently, we should look at."

Mitchell's Gourmet foods will soon be undergoing an expansion at their plant in Saskatoon. The first phase will involve a $50-million stand-alone building to produce sausages and wieners and should be under way before the snow flies. This bodes well for future employment opportunities, as the project is expected to create an additional 150 jobs.

Stu Irvine, President, Mitchell's FoodsIf you are interested in a career that rewards you the same amount as you are willing to invest, look at Mitchell's Gourmet Foods. No ivory tower, on-the-job training, great labor relations and great deals on Mitchell's excellent smokies for the whole family. What more could you ask for.

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