FoodGrads Podcast Ep.03: From Master’s degree to Manager of Operations & Quality with Clear Ocean Seafood Ltd.’s Manager of Operations & Quality Sean Xia

On episode 3 of the FoodGrads Podcast we interview Sean Xia, Clear Ocean Seafood Ltd.’s Manager of Operations & Quality. Clear Ocean Seafood, established in Vancouver, BC, Canada, is an importer, wholesaler and custom packer of premium quality frozen seafood products. Clear Ocean’s primary product lines are frozen sea scallops, bay scallops, scallops on the half shell and have a range of products which include bacon-wrapped, something we talk about in the show.

In this episode, we learn about Sean’s career journey from master’s degree to manager and more about Clear Ocean Seafood. We dive into the world of scallops and learn about the journey they take from growing in the ocean to when they reach the supermarket shelves. Also, we le learn about what Sean’s learned during his journey going from his maser’s degree to a full-time position industry position.

You can tell that Sean deeply loves his job and the people he works with. He has a strong understanding of the whole system of manufacturing and how creating a food product is a truly team effort. Sean gives a lot of useful advice for students that you can tell comes from his own journey. I really enjoyed learning about how he believes the industry can make you grow as a person because it helps you build confidence through talking with others.

Now onto the show!

What is your career journey up till now?

  • Started working at Clear Ocean Seafood Ltd. a five years ago but began first as a QA manager and slowly moved to the operations side
  • He started his own trading company

What kind of product does Clear Ocean Seafood sell?

  • They are an importer of scallops and other seafood
  • Manufacturing plant in Richmond, BC the co-pack, manufacture and produce wholesale scallops
  • Two plants one in China and one in Japan doing the agriculture of the scallops.
  • They import the products, process them and sell to the United States and Canada

What does someone in an Operation Manager position do and what are some of your daily duties?

  • Broad comment and will work wherever he needs to be whether it is purchasing or on the floor
  • The main idea of his job is that he is there to resolve problems
  • His main role is in charge of purchasing based on production schedules. This involves working with the production manager and coming up with back-up plans with something comes up.
  • He also works with marketing so that they can create a new product based on new opportunities. He also works with QA to see if this is possible
  • Everyday is different

What are some of the things that you love about your job?

  • Setting up a new line that sells
  • At the beginning of the company all they did was repackaging however they realized that they could create bacon-wrapped scallops. They had to figure out potential customers, setting up a new line and many other things.
  • Sean loves when you are able to make a prediction and seeing it all coming together in the end.
  • Sometimes you have to get your hands on the product. It is very important that you work with the production line workers.

What is the experience like working with the line operators?

  • He really likes working on the line doing labour work. He gives him a chance to understand what makes them happier and make things easier.
  • Sean always talks to his staff to try to make their jobs easier. It helps to promote the whole company while encouraging the retention of works
  • You’ll be amazed about how much knowledge and good ideas that can be used.

What does the journey look like for a whole sale scallop you can find in the supermarket?

  • For the seafood industry especially scallops. It is very labour intensive. Clear Ocean Seafood specializes in Japanese and Chinese Bay Scallops.
  • Every year in the spring the farmer goes to the open ocean. They put seeds in a cage or the bottom of the ocean. They have to feed and check on them every single week. For 10-15 pound scallops, it takes 5 years to grow
  • There can be a lot of things that happen when they grow like weather conditions. It is a difficult job for the farmers but there are good people working
  • When the scallops are ready they are brought to the plant and have to be manually shucked by hand. This involves a lot of labour.
  • Japanese workers can shuck scallops in like 2 seconds. They also do it supper efficiently without damaging it all
  • It takes scallops 6 weeks to travel from China to Canada or 4 weeks from Japan to Canada. When the container travels delay might happen like a strike or an inspection.
  • It is amazing how many different kinds of scallops and different factors that affect scallop quality. This includes the temperature of the water and the salt content of the water. Every month scallops have different quality standards based on the time of harvesting
  • There are different grades of scallops

How was the journey between going from a master’s degree to a full-time industry position?

  • A lot of hard work. Sean mentors students at the University of British Columbia and the advice he gives them is that the food industry is a low entry-level industry. You don’t need a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree so you will be competing with a person for high-school. Don’t have high expectations for your first job.
  • His first position was a lab tech at SGS and was a super junior position where he did all the hard work like carrying samples. Started with a minimum wage job.
  • This industry especially when you have a master’s degree moves fast. The hardest part is getting your first job. You want to accumulate our experience. Usually, it is repetitive.
  • Students don’t know the industry because they haven’t been in it. If you don’t what a forklift is then you can’t be a manager.
  • SGS is a great company to work for because it is well-established with their SOPs and protocols.
  • No matter what job you get as your first job it doesn’t matter what you are doing. What matters is what is going on around you.
  • People can be ashamed to ask questions. Students can come into the facility a lot of times they are afraid to ask questions. They don’t want to ask basic questions because they don’t want to seem like they don’t know. Though Sean says don’t be like this because how are you supposed to know the product if you just started. You have to ask to understand for your own benefit.
  • Don’t assume because you have a master’s degree that you know more than the production workers. If you do that could really harm your career. Be humble. They have been there for years, their experience is invaluable. Only when you listen and understand can you have them take your suggestions

Could you give any advice to student’s in their third or forth year who aspire to be in a position like yours?

  • Learn accounting. Anyone trying to be a manager or senior-level need to learn accounting. In your spare time read because everything is about the cost. Even if your QA you have to know why your proposal is rejected.
  • Every department needs to work together and one of the ways that they do this is by talking the same language which is money. How do you compromise so that you can all achieve the same goals.
  • The university gives you the ideal that everything is done in the perfect world like a HACCP plan. But in the real world you have to work around a budget.
  • Second, improve your soft skills. You not only need to sell your products but also your ideas. You have to convince the workers to convince them to follow the SOPs and your manager if you have a new idea.
  • Improve your communication skills

If a student were to have taken accounting how would a student show this on their resume?

  • Mention on your resume that you took it the especially if the position does budgeting like an Operations Manager.
  • It is more of a soft skill rather than a certificate. It will help you do your job right.
  • If you can’t do that just read in your spare time because it will help you to differentiate from your peers.
  • Remember when you are a manager you will not just be sitting your QA team but all the heads of the department. Everyone knows accounting. This allows you to speak the same language as everyone.

Do you have anything else you would like to share with the audience?

  • At the beginning he tried to get a technical job. Though once he started to do QA he started to move to the business side. He started to learn how much knowledge you can get day to day. If you do a position like this you can learn more about the industry. This really helps you as a person.
  • When Sean was a student and he was very introverts. By working in the industry by talking to everyone from the production workers, customers and CFIA inspectors. It really helped him become more confident and grow as a person. This is how the food industry is great.
  • You can really grow fast career wise from entry-level. If you put your mind and commitment into

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