Seafood leadership

Alex Kinsem, a fish house supervisor at Icicle Seafoods and Asaunte Salaam a production foreman at Pacific Star Seafood talk through a project.

A week-long seafood processing leadership training session took place this week at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center. There were 20 attendees from 10 different processing companies. 

Those in attendance are mid-level managers at processing plants who are identified as having “leadership potential,” and over the course of a few weeks they receive education in a range of fields that cover all the aspects of seafood processing management.

David Sabo is an assistant foreman/fleet manager who’s been working at Trident Seafoods for three years.

“We’re learning new leadership skills on every aspect of the job. It’s been really useful,” said Sabo, who worked in Cordova for a year before moving to Kodiak. “The teachers are really good. I’d recommend the program to anyone.”

The program takes place every other year and has been running for more than a decade now.

Attendees get to learn about numerous aspects of the business, including manufacturing, microbiology, marketing strategies, hands-on processing work and project management.

“Everyone in our company who’s taken this class before, they’re all managers now,” said Sabo. “My plant manager recommended me for it. He’s my sponsor.”

The program is funded through three channels, which are the University of Alaska’s Technical Vocation Program (which itself is funded by the Department of Labor), the Alaska Sea Grant and processing companies themselves. The firms sponsor each participant to the tune of $1,800 for the Kodiak and Anchorage weeks or $2,400 if they opt to attend the week in Boston, too. Participants are also paid the wages they would otherwise be earning during the weeks of the program.

Quentin Fong, a seafood marketing specialist at the Kodiak Seafood & Marine Science Center, is one of the instructors with the program. 

“We take mid-level managers and pull them out of their day-to-day duties so that through seminars and workshops, they can think about what a processing manager actually has to do,” he said.

He explained that the first week takes place in Kodiak because the Seafood & Marine Science Center has the only seafood processing pilot plant in the state. 

“It has all the equipment of a full-sized processor,” Fong said. “We use it for large-scale application research and also for training.” 

The Kodiak Seafood & Marine Science Center also has a microbiology lab, which was used by the group on Monday during a class on the science of food safety. On Tuesday, the group learned about “lean manufacturing,” which is based on the Japanese management concept kaizen. 

What this means, explained Fong, is “continuous improvement in a thoughtful way.”

Through the rest of the week, seminars and workshops ranged in topic from emerging technology to ergonomics in the workplace.

“If you want to become a plant manager or work at a processor headquarters, you will have to deal with all these issues.” Fong said.

This was just the first week of the program. The group is now planning winter projects, which they will plan and take back to their respective plants to implement with their mentors. These projects can focus on anything, from saving money to improving safety.

“Some people would improve the yield of a particular fish; some would do cost analysis on a product,” Fong explained. 

Taylor Green has been working for Icicle Seafoods in Larsen Bay for six years, where she is now a cannery supervisor. She started in the kitchen and joked that when she moved into production, her manager was taking bets on when she would quit. “But here we are, four years later,” she said.

“My company sent me here to learn some of the production aspects,” she explained. “I see a decent future with Icicle, and it’s good to see them invest in us.”

Green is referring to herself and two others who also came from Icicle’s Larson Bay plant: assistant production manager Dalen Broussard and fish house manager Alex Kinsmen. All three are in their 20s and are working toward management positions in the sector.

The class will continue in Anchorage, where participants will present the results of their winter project, and then for an optional week in Boston, in the spring of 2018. One of the aspects that Fong emphasizes is the networking and bonding that the program encourages.

“We take people from different companies,” Fong said, “and them ask them to take their company hat off.”

According to Fong, everyone learns from each other and the fact that there are no grades removes competitive rivalries. He said that by the end of the course people have bonded and made valuable professional contacts. 

“It’s really the heart and soul of the program,” Fong said.

Paula Dobbyn, communications manager at Sea Grant, said that the organization funds the program to support seafood and fishing, which she explains is “largest private employer in the state of Alaska.” 

“One of the Sea Grant’s major missions is to help support coastal economies,” said Dobbyn. “We’re just trying to help people progress in this field and move up the ranks.”

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