Producing leaders

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Alaska Seafood Processing Leadership Institute, which Alaska Sea Grant developed to grow and strengthen leadership in Alaska’s seafood processing sector. In those 10 years, nearly 100 midlevel managers have attended training.

This year’s 18 graduates completed a week of training each in November 2017 and March 2018, worked on a plant project during the intervening months, and 10 students attended Seafood Expo North America in Boston.

“The 2018 graduates overall seemed exceptionally motivated, energetic and eager to participate in the series of topics presented,” said Quentin Fong, Alaska Sea Grant seafood marketing specialist. Fong is lead organizer for the course.

Sam Nothstine, expediter at Kwik’pak Fisheries in Emmonak, Alaska, said the most useful part of the training was the session taught by independent leadership trainer Al Bolea. Nothstine learned from Bolea’s first-hand stories about how he became CEO in the oil industry and the decisions he made on the job.

“He encouraged us to be communicative and challenge others, not to retreat from issues,” said Nothstine.

“But the most important aspect of ASPLI is the mentors, especially Chris Sannito and Quentin Fong,” said Nothstine. “They had a very close connection with the students. They encourage everyone to reach their potential, and they are continuing to offer help, which I really appreciate.”

Fong and Sannito, both University of Alaska Fairbanks faculty members, taught seafood business and processing during the November session at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center and at the March session in Anchorage, along with other experts.

Student projects ranged from adopting lean manufacturing principles in plant operations and enhancing processor ergonomics to creating mobile work stations and redesigning off-loading operations. They gave presentations on the projects during the March class.

“My project was to do an equipment inventory and learn the purchasing process. We went from two refrigeration units to four, and bought some new engines that had given us problems,” said Nothstine.

When Nothstine gave his presentation, he showed a video of his grandfather, Jake Johnson Sr., who in the 1970s started the fish processing cooperative that became Kwik’pak Fisheries. Kwik’pak is the only employee-owned and Native-operated seafood processor in Alaska.

The Alaska Seafood Processing Leadership Institute has really taken off since it began 10 years ago. People in the seafood industry are much more aware of its value. “About half the participants heard about it from their coworkers or acquaintances and asked their boss if they could take the class,” Fong said.

Nothstine, however, was nominated by his company. Kris Norosz, a member of the Alaska Sea Grant Advisory Committee, contacted Kwik’pak looking for potential leaders who might benefit from the training.

After taking the course, Nothstine is doing very well. “Management here has taken advantage of my new mindset and skills, and I’m implementing new ideas,” said Nothstine. “I would strongly encourage younger folks that have potential to enroll in ASPLI, to help mold them in the right direction.”

The institute also covered packaging, project management and new technology, as well as hiring, climate change, fisheries management and economic value of Alaska seafood.

“We’ll be recruiting next spring for the institute that will begin in fall 2019,” said Sannito.

Funding for the institute is provided by participating companies, University of Alaska Technical Vocational Education Program funds, and Alaska Sea Grant. More than two dozen companies have paid to send employees for training since the institute began.

About the author

Sue Keller

Sue Keller served on the Alaska Sea Grant communications staff as publications production manager and editor. She retired in June 2018 after 35 years at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, writing and editing on marine science and fisheries topics.

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