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Environmental Professional Talk with Ryan Muri
Ryan Muri is from a rural background in North Central Alberta in a region with significant energy activity. He was able to obtain some “environmental” experience and exposure to the environmental consulting industry prior to selecting environmental sciences as his primary focus at post secondary.
Ryan received his Bachelor of Science in Environmental and Conservation
Sciences (ENCS) with a minor in Soil science in 2001 from the University of Alberta. He then received his Professional Agrologist designation in Alberta in 2003. Ryan began his career as an Environmental professional in 2001 with a small Edmonton based private consulting firm in the spring of 2001. After 12 years (8 of which were primarily field based) and 2 “boom and bust” cycles associated with the energy sector, Ryan moved into an industry role with Husky Energy (now Cenovus Energy) in 2013. Initially, Ryan’s role was liability management and environmental stewardship of Husky’s Oil Sands assets in Northern Alberta. In 2014 he moved into a manager role supporting the Reclamation portfolio for Western Canadian Operations.
In 2017 Ryan moved back into consulting and in 2018, joined Vertex
Professional Services (parent company – Vertex Resource Group). Initially the role was General Manager of Environment North. As a result of significant company growth in the environmental division and a decision to re-structure by sector instead of by region, Ryan was appointed as Vice President of Regulatory and Compliance Monitoring early in 2022. The team that Ryan facilitates supports projects in the following sectors
across Canada; renewables, transmission lines, pipelines, Sand and Gravel, Oil Sands, commercial and residential developments, and supports various clients on green initiatives.
Ryan is married and has two children, Caleb, and Camryn and still calls the
Edmonton region home.
What can you do as an Environmental Professional? The list is long and
diverse, and individuals come form a wide range of educational and speciality
backgrounds. Some of the career paths include: (but not limited to):
Biophysical Sciences (Natural Sciences)
Fisheries and Aquatics
Soil and Reclamation professionals
Vegetation and Wetland Ecology
Surface Water professionals
Contaminated Sites Management
Assessment and remediation
Risk assessment and human health toxicology
Spill response professionals
Environmental Professionals have a wide range of opportunities for career
paths in Canada. Government (municipal, provincial, federal), industry,
consulting firms, and non-government agencies employ a large contingent of the Environmental Professionals in Canada. Job scopes and skill sets
required are variable and are specific to the type of work, location, and
Professional designations depend on the discipline specific area and include a wide range of professional designations/certifications, including engineers, foresters, biologists, agrologist, and geophysicists.
Increased sector development in Canada (i.e. renewables, increased green
initiatives) and in increase in regulatory and stakeholder engagement in the development and restoration/reclamation of projects have led to a increase in demand for Environmental Professionals. Specific to Western Canada there is a shortage across the board for all areas associated with pre-development assessments scopes, regulatory permitting and management and closure of impacted sites.
Most industries that employ Environmental Professionals do require post
secondary education associated with a related field for entry level positions. This includes two- or three-year technical diplomas from accredited colleges and technical institutes or a Bachelors degree. With increased specialization in a specific discipline, higher level education is often obtained. Most Environmental Professionals work towards a professional designation that accommodates the work types and areas in which they practice. This includes professional Engineers, Agrologist, Biologists, Foresters, Geophysicists and all related technical designations associated. Practicing as an Environmental Professional will require “sign off” of produced reports and documents for submission and review by regulators. Obtaining and maintaining a designation increases opportunity and employability. Education requirements and professional designations do vary by province and governing body.
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Complete Episode Transcript
It’s important to get your technical you tech side, like get your science, get those things that are sort of building blocks for the industry.
But I definitely would suggest business or business courses for a time management, budgeting, all those are important.
The Job Talk Podcast shares stories from people who are passionate and love what they do in their careers.
Through conversation, we explore their careers, past work experiences and the education that got them to where they are now.
We are putting together a career crisis Ultimate Interview Series.
We are asking experts to give their best advice and guidance around work anxiety career pressures, career goal setting, and ultimately career transformation.
To learn more about this special interview series and get notified when it’s available, please visit our web page at thejobtalk.com/help Today’s guest is Ryan Muri.
Here’s our job talk with an Environmental Professional just to get things started.
I’m kind of curious, what is your actual job title? Vice President of regulatory and compliance monitoring.
So it’s a mouthful.
What it actually means that I help facilitate two groups of our two sides of our business.
One is for the regulatory piece.
So applications, proponents and clients want to put in a new building, in a new project, and we help on the paperwork.
And the compliance side so once they’re up and operational…
We help them do the maintenance.
So if there’s a PIA operating environment requirements for monitoring, we support those programs as well.
Okay, this sounds complicated and I’m going to be very curious to explain how you got into that position.
But I want to take you back to your post-secondary.
And I understand you were a hockey player and you were attending university.
Is that correct? Yeah, I played a year at Augustana, out at Camrose.
I played a year there and took the first two years of undergrad in Camrose.
So the one year was very busy juggling hockey and sport for sure.
And how did you find that taking post-secondary courses and you were a goalie on a very high level of hockey.
So we you know, it’s hard it’s a hard schedule.
We were on the ice four or five days a week. I believe so.
But the school is nice and setting the schedule so you can maintain the ability to get your practice and schoolwork done.
So typically, most players, instead of taking a full course, 4 to 5, they took 3 to 4 courses.
So most athletes, or at least when I was at university, took four and a half or five years to get a four year degree if they played sports for the full four years.
Was your career ever looking like it was going to there was a chance for being a professional hockey player? No, not really.
I think if it ever got close to it had actually been after university.
Nice playing senior hockey.
I played team senior hockey in the Chinook.
They call it the triple-A Senior League.
And at that time there was a lot of pro leagues popping up all over the U.S.
and they were often looking for players interested in making 300 bucks a week.
American riding on a bus.
But I never quite made that cut either.
Were you considering it? Do you think? No, I don’t think so, no.
I was interested in going to Amarillo, Texas, to play hockey.
Go see the World play hockey. Yeah.
Okay. So you’re taking what courses? What program were you taken at university? So when I started out in Camrose, I took general sciences.
Yeah. And then when I.
When I went to university and transferred to U of A where I graduated, the one that was most interesting to me was the Environmental Conservation Sciences.
So so that that would be things like your wildlife sciences, your soil science, vegetation ecology, some more of the soft sciences that was sort of the gist of that program.
Learning how to learning environmental regulations in Alberta, in Canada, contaminated sites, management.
So it was sort of a precursor to getting into being an environmental professional.
I’m always curious about industries like the one that you went into, because when you’re a kid, you’re not thinking that one day I’m going to be an environmental professional.
I have a friend that’s in, in in insurance.
And he said it was basically the last booth at a career fair that he he came across.
So why do you think you chose to go into environmental sciences? That’s a great question.
So one of the things that intrigued me is when I was growing up, I grew up in an area with a lot of oil and gas activity.
And so a lot of neighbors, friends, family, friends, they were in that industry, whether it be on the operations side of the drilling wells.
The financial accounting side is a lot of people we knew in that oil and gas industry.
And I was lucky enough in high school that a summer job that I was working up at, a place called Swan Hills, it’s a little town an hour and a half where I grew up, and it’s an oil town.
And so I got I got some exposure working at a gas plant, actually, of all things.
I learned quite a bit about that industry.
And then the other big piece about is I like being outdoors.
So the industry I’m in, there’s a ton of field work, a ton of opportunity to see all sorts of places in Canada, to collect data, to write reports.
And so that was interesting to me is to be outside, you know, you’re on ATVs, Argos, that was really actually a big draw for me to being outside.
And also it sounds cheesy, but I did like the idea of environmental protection and those sorts of things.
And what is the degree when you come out of university? So there’s you know, it’s kind of funny.
The degree I have is ENCS, Enviromental Conservation Sciences.
It’s an undergrad in science, but but currently, you know, Vertex Professional Services, the company I work in, we recruit from all sorts of colleges, the agriculture colleges, the tech colleges the NAITs, the SAITs So anything typically within hydrology a science, a biology, a forestry background, those are all typically individuals who get into our industry.
And is it quite intense, the subject matter in obtaining that that degree? Yeah, they can be.
Yeah, I would say I mean it’s not engineering, it’s not medicine, but because you’re taking such a wide breadth of courses, you have to kind of be a jack of all trades and your course load.
And your marks were good coming out of there.
They were okay. They were they’re all right because.
Because we could look into it.
Just go, yeah.
So you graduate with your degree.
Let’s talk about your first work experience coming out of post-secondary.
What were you doing? Yeah, well, I can give you the short or the long of it, but.
You know, it’s a podcast.
Let’s go on. Let’s go on.
So when I graduated, as you know, living in western Canada, especially Alberta, many people probably know there’s an ebb and flow with oil and gas and there’s booms and busts.
It just so happened when I left university.
I think I finished in December of 20… or 2000.
So kind of April 2001, you’re looking for work.
I ended up in a welding shop because there was no jobs for I was there for four or five months.
There was no jobs in my field.
And I started actually flipping the yellow pages open looking for anything with the word environmental or consulting in it professional.
And I did land a job, by going through the Yellow Pages, applying for a position for a small firm, and that’s how I kind of got my foot in the door.
It was pretty bleak for the first six months.
I don’t think kids watching this will know what the Yellow Pages are because there wasn’t really much of an Internet when we were coming out of school.
No, that’s right.
Okay. So you you landed in there.
What kind of work were you doing once he landed that first job? Yeah. So it was actually was a great job.
I was lucky to get that job.
So our industry is really based on weather.
When the weather’s nice and there’s growing conditions, you’re out in the field and in the wintertime you’re writing reports or you’re way up in the bush.
When it’s frozen, you can access sites.
So the first six months I was there, I was probably in the field 95% of the time.
But I say the field, a lot of the work I was doing is called Details, site assessment or site inspection.
So you go to, well, sites or the facilities that are already reclaimed and the client wants to get an registered on them, meaning they don’t have to pay any more rent to a landowner, for example, and we would do assessments all summer.
So I did a lot of that.
I did some interesting live mammal trapping.
We’ve been none of them were harmed in the making of all of that activity.
A lot of veg surveys learned a lot about vegetation identification.
So a lot of field work, both up North Slave Lake, Fort McMurray and down south, though later when that was in the first six months.
So there’s a lot of diversity and it was great.
So at this point are you married yet? Are you a single guy? We were engaged.
When we were engaged, yeah. Okay.
Because obviously it sounds like you’re away from home quite a bit while you’re doing this type of fieldwork.
Yeah, yeah. Okay.
There was a lot of it was a lot of ten days on four days off the first summer.
You know, and like, you know, this this profession, you know, there’s a lot of hours, especially in the field in the summer and usually 12 hour days.
So there’s a lot of work to be had, which is great when you’re starting out because you want to experience and it’s nice on the wallet.
I’m always curious about the wildlife when you’re out.
So are you using like quads or are you in four by four trucks out in the wilderness? And did you have any experience with bears? Yeah, actually we have.
So the answer, the first part, we take the trucks as far as they’ll take us, then you either unload Argos or quads or now it’s side by side.
So most companies prefer that you side by side to safer.
And we often use helicopters to actually claim a fair bit.
So yeah we I’ve had a few projects you actually helicopter into like a fishing lodge and early bird and you stay there and they fly you out every day to your site and they fly you back at the end of the day.
So I’ve had some crazy encounters with bears, super scary.
I mean, you laugh about them now, but instances where you’re in places, they don’t actually have as many humans, so they’re more curious.
So we used to have we used to carry a ton of bear bangers there, make a big bang, and they shoot like a little shell over top of them.
We used to carry those quite frequently and bear spray.
So you’d often run into the most of the time they disappeared.
We had a couple that would follow us around, which is a little unnerving.
So lots of experiences with that.
And we’re talking grizzlies or black bears.
I mean, if a bears attacking you, it doesn’t really matter if it’s black or grizzly, you know? Okay.
How many years were you with that company and what was your progression? I guess we’re trying to work towards what you’re doing right now, so I don’t really know what happened in between that position and where you are now.
So I stayed at that firm for 12 years, which is a long time in our industry, especially now.
A lot of people, you know, look for opportunities after four or five once citizen experience and have a feel for what they want to do.
I was lucky enough that they let me grow quite a bit.
I started out doing a ton of field work, so the first two or three years I spent a lot of time out in the field, winter and summer, and I had a wide range of projects.
I was doing contaminated sites work.
So you’re actually behind a drill truck, drilling soil samples, collecting them, sending them to a lab, and then writing a report.
And I also did a lot of the sort of softer science stuff.
So I got to do a ton of soil surveys.
That’s sort of the fun stuff here in the helicopter on the Argo.
I did a bunch of that bunch of vegetation.
I do your work.
So that was the first 3 to 5 years that I kind of specialized actually in the soil science.
That’s my minor university, the soil science.
So I started doing a lot of those.
And at that time, slide 2007 to 2010 or 11, there was a bunch of activity in northern Alberta building that they call in-situ plants or oilsands projects.
So they’re large footprints.
They required a lot of soil survey, vegetation survey work.
So I spent a few years doing a lot of that and slowly progressed into more of a management role of those types of teams and then when I left that firm at that time, I was a team leader or biophysical group.
So I kind of oversaw our wildlife teams, our vegetation teams, our soils teams and our wetland group.
Are you surprised that you ended up in management as a vice president? That’s pretty impressive.
I never I never thought I would be in a role like this.
It’s never what I was thinking when I got into this.
And that’s going to be when I grow up as a vice president or a senior leader in a company like this.
I actually just thoroughly enjoyed doing the science, the technical side.
I always kind of thought I’d stick to the technical side of it and this room to grow in lots opportunities in that part of the business as well.
I was going to ask actually, when you’re doing the work that you were doing, is it solitary or are you working with the team of people? Well, when I first started, we did a lot of stuff on our own with little radios and then, you know, rightfully so, safety became more power paramount.
So you do most of your work, especially remote work you do in teams.
Okay, too. Yeah.
And how we’re okay.
Actually, I think I’m going to back up a little bit.
Let’s talk about your position now and the company that you’re working for.
So I’m with Vertex Professional Services.
We are… Sherwood Park, actually, the head office, which is unique, most consulting firms head offices here in Calgary, our head office and corporate group is in Sherwood Park.
We are relatively large as a company.
I believe we’re just over 1200.
We’re two were two groups were vertex resource Group.
So we also deal with hydrovac trucks, oilfield haulers, rental division.
And then the group I’m in is called the Professional Services Team, but engineering and Environment, which I’m involved with, Surface Land and that group were one big happy family.
But the group that I sort of part of, we’re about 300 people, so a smaller of the two groups.
I’ve been with them for four years.
I started in late 2018 and it just sort of progressed from managing biophysical groups.
One of the main reasons I came on to sort of spearheading a larger group.
And how are you finding being a manager and in management? Because it’s not like you went to business school, you were in science.
So how are you finding the management side of things? I’m I’m learning always learning.
Like you said, I didn’t go to business school.
And that’s one thing I would say to anybody interested in this field.
It’s important to get your technical you tech side, like get your science, get those things that are sort of building blocks for the industry.
But I definitely would suggest business or business courses for a time management, budgeting, all those are important.
So back to your question, I find the people side of it.
I think I’m a people person.
So I enjoyed that component of managing a team, growing a team.
I like being sports and I really think a lot of it it’s the same thing sort of idea.
It’s a team game with our group… so I enjoy that atmosphere.
So like dealing with people, making sure people are getting the resources they need to get the work done, seeing people succeed, team people promoted.
The tricky part is the business of the dollars, and cents, is what I’m learning.
I have a good senior manager above me.
That helps a lot with that.
So that’s a piece I didn’t really pick up until later in my career and I’m by no stretch my great at it, but I’m getting better at it.
I would love to talk to you about like are you experiencing labor shortages at all within your company? And I’m thinking about the student that’s going through environmental sciences right now, what they can start to think about as far as what jobs are out there.
Yeah, Kim, we have I would put us as an extreme labor shortage in our industry.
We hit a bit of a blip.
So COVID and I’m sure you’ve heard of it, it hit in 2020.
And so we a lot of our project work almost came to a screeching halt.
Like everything else in the world for a few months.
And what happened and this is not proven science is sort of our or my interpretation.
A lot of people decided to leave this industry and did not come back when things picked up, which actually was only a few months later, things started to get busy again.
So you couple that with there’s a lot of funding opportunities from the federal government.
They provided industries that we work with money to reclaim and get rid of old well sites for that jumped up and then I think things start to turn around and capital projects came back online.
So we went from 0 to 100 miles an hour, then about six or eight months.
And we’ve been sort of struggling ever since to find qualified staff anywhere from entry level positions all the way up to intermediate and senior level.
That just isn’t enough.
People in Alberta, or western Canada, go around for the workload that’s currently out there.
I mean, you took the initiative to open up the Yellow Pages and just start contacting as many environmental companies as you could.
Would you say that would still be a good bit of advice for students just to start canvasing oil companies, environmental, that kind of thing? I would say the number of associations to, you know, depending what your interest is, if you’re interested in wildlife biology or fish biology or any of those aspects, those the Alberta Society professional biologist, RSPB, they have a website with job postings, the Calgary Cleaning Land Reclamation Association.
So there’s a lot of it and they have a job postings site, the Alberta geologists, same thing.
So a lot of those sort of discipline ins have Alberta affiliations with websites we use, you know, probably like anyone else we use indeed a lot we post on our website.
So there is a lot of opportunity.
I mean, if you know where to look. Yeah.
When you were in the field, actually, I’m going to ask you a two part question.
When you were in the field, what was the what did you love doing the best? What did you look forward to you in your day to day work when you’re out in the field? Well, I like again, I like the outdoors.
So this can be a two part answer on that.
First part of the second part question.
Yeah, I really enjoyed it when I was out doing self service.
There’s two types of land.
You get a chance to walk through upland, some nice forested like you see in the movies and then the swamps, the stuff.
It’s tough to walk through.
So if I knew I had a day where I was in an area that was all upland, like Aspen or white spurce forest, you could spend the day walking around there.
Great day when we when we got stuck in areas that were full of water, lots of musk.
Your jumping from piece of dry land to piece of dry land.
Those were really long days and rain.
So I like being outdoors, but I’m a bit of a weather picky with my weather.
And what do you look forward to now that you’re in the management side of things? So like, you know, the day to day, what I look forward to is, is probably if we’re able to get some projects, get a new project in house that excites people.
I mean, you know, we always think consulting, you get to do 40% of stuff you like to do, 42 in different and 20 you don’t like to do.
That’s a pretty good career.
So we get that 40% of interesting projects come in and we have a success for a client.
We get something approved that that’s a good day for sure, and we get those new opportunities.
I read a half headline once, did not research into anything but the the headline was something it was speaking to you.
How many orphaned wells there are in our province and I guess Saskatchewan as well.
Yeah, maybe we say Western Canada.
I would, you know, from a very naive place, I would suggest that that would mean that if you’re going into this kind of work, there’s going to be a lot of work for a long time for you are there are a lot of orphaned wells out there that need to be taken care of.
Yeah, there is.
I don’t know the number and I don’t want to get it recorded if I guess that there is a significant amount.
It’s gone up a lot in the last five years another big part of it is the regulatory requirements are getting more stringent and companies are required to reduce their liability more and more every year.
So that’s just even from a standpoint of nonworking wells is a ton of work coming up in the next decade or 15 years just just in that that sector of our industry.
I mean, oil and gas is only a part of sort of being environment professional.
It’s a big one in Western Canada, but there’s also lots of other avenues for renewables transmission lines, commercial industrial developments around cities, greenfield and brownfield developments.
So I always want to make sure people understand that oil and gas is only a portion of kind of what you can do as an environmental professional.
But again, in western Canada, it’s a pretty big one right now.
Ryan, how do you stay up to date on best practices in environmental management? So most professionals in the in Environmental consulting usually have a designation.
That’s what, you know, you should be shooting towards getting a designation of professional sign off, they call it, and part of having that as an annual requirement to do professional development or contribute to.
So you have to do so many hours professional development annually to maintain your designation.
And so most of us, we look for career fairs, conferences, online learning.
Actually, if you’re also teaching or doing some other things to augment your skill set, those are count towards it.
So many of us do those sorts of activities to try and maintain and get enough points, if you will, to keep the designation, which is a great idea.
It keeps everybody up to speed.
Everybody’s up on the current regulations and it’s a good habit.
So continuous learning, lifelong learning.
Yeah, I like that.
What is the best advice you could give to that student that’s graduating with their degree in environmental sciences, entering the work world? I would say be open to doing any sort of field work.
Don’t be closed minded and say, I only want to do X and Y.
I think the more and the different types of work you’re exposed to and opportunities early on your career, it’s great.
Can you learn right away what you like to do and what you don’t like to do? I was lucky enough to have that opportunity to do soup cabinets in the first 6 to 16 months.
I was there and I learned real quick which what was my passion and things that could lead, you know, not really do want to deal with.
And I would suggest that be open minded, don’t just look for one type of role and take as much field work as you can get.
Don’t be turning that down.
I think that invaluable.
It just makes you a better professional when you get to position re actually building budgets and you’re doing programs, you understand what it takes to execute the work.
So that’s a big I would that would be my biggest suggestion for people getting into the industry.
It almost seems like you would be building a resume for maybe a future as a politician or have you ever considered going into politics? Never.
Sorry, Kim, I.
Yeah, that takes a special kind of person.
Well, maybe that is an avenue for for some people.
Any time that you can pick a career that involves helicopter rides and the possibility of bear attacks, you’ve picked an exciting profession.
So congrats on that, Ryan, and thank you so much for coming on the podcast today.
Thank you very much for having me.
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For more information, please visit us at thejobtalk.com Our podcast music was created by our friend Mike Malone in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada