Trace Associates Inc. (Alberta)

New environmental scientists: Field work during the COVID-19 pandemic

Adam with Jordan in front of the white truck of Trace Associates Inc. in a field with wind turbines.

Science Horizons intern, Adam Janzen, with Jordan Perron, standing beside a Trace Associates Inc. truck, Lowmond, Alberta. Photo credit: Corey Shilliday.

The 2019 outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and a steep drop in oil prices was a double whammy for Trace Associates Inc., an environmental science and engineering advisory firm based in western Canada with its head office in Calgary, Alberta.

But luckily, just weeks before the pandemic hit, the 15-year-old firm hired two interns in their Lethbridge, Alberta, office with financial support provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Science Horizons Youth Internship Program managed through BioTalent Canada. The program’s wage subsidies helped it keep the interns employed during the slow-down. Both were later hired full-time as environmental scientists.

“We are seeing the benefits of that funding this year (2021),” says Corey Shilliday, a Partner and Division Manager with Trace. “And fortunately, we are quite busy now. If we didn’t have those two individuals on staff, we would be struggling to get through the work we have.”

An employee-owned company with a staff of more than a hundred people, Trace provides advice on land reclamation, remediation, sustainability, and emergency management to businesses in various sectors, and has offices in British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

Anne works in the field with a machine to remove soil for analysis.

Anne Neumann, a Science Horizons intern, working in the field at Lethbridge, Alberta. Photo credit: Trace Associates Inc.

Many consulting companies in resource-rich Alberta stopped hiring during the pandemic because of economic uncertainties. “We made a plan and figured things out and worked through that slow time,” Trace’s Shilliday says. “The funds helped initially, but not just short-term—they helped long-term too. Our goal is to bring on people who will grow with the company.”

One of the interns, Adam Janzen, began work a month before the pandemic struck. He was conducting field work snowshoeing in the Crowsnest Pass in southwestern Alberta when he learned of the gravity of the pandemic and was certain he would be laid off. “Last in, first out,” thought Janzen, who has a Master’s of Natural Resource Management from the University of Manitoba. “But Trace was very good about it and found a way to keep the entire company together,” he says. Staff took an across-the-board pay cut, in order to keep the team together, which has since been repaid to all staff.

The other intern, Anne Neumann, was on the job a mere six days before the pandemic broke out. “I showed up for my second Monday, and we were told to take all our equipment home,” she says. “It was definitely a learning curve, an adjustment for everyone.” The BioTalent Canada funding ensured that Trace could keep Janzen and Neumann employed during the downturn.

Both Neumann, who has a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science from Mount Royal University, and Janzen say they enjoy the variety of work offered at Trace and are delighted they can focus on projects and work that interest them most. A long-time Alberta Junior Forest Warden, Neumann found she loves groundwater assessments. These involve field work, which includes monitoring and sampling, analysis of laboratory results, and report writing.

Anne and Adam at Trace Associates Inc., Lethbridge, Alberta.

Science Horizons interns, Anne Neumann, and Adam Janzen, at Trace Associates Inc., Lethbridge, Alberta. Photo credit: Corey Shilliday.

Janzen works on agricultural projects, oil and gas remediation, land reclamation, and vegetation and wildlife assessments. In Winnipeg he had worked for a company that used falcons and other raptors to keep gulls away from a landfill site. His knowledge about avian behaviour has proved helpful at Trace where he conducts “wildlife sweeps” to determine mitigation measures required for construction or other disturbances during the nesting times of sensitive species.

In his childhood, Janzen preferred nature shows on TV rather than cartoons. His father and an uncle were soil scientists. His father was also a hog farm owner and did environmental consulting. Janzen’s undergraduate degree from Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg combined theology and biology, an unusual combination that gave him a broader perspective than just a straight science degree, he says. “Looking through one lens at resource management issues doesn’t always produce the best results,” he explains.

Shilliday, who has been with Trace for a decade, says the company seeks employees with a range of skills, knowledge, and experience. “The time to try a variety of work and gain the most experience you can is when you are starting out,” he advises. “Then you can concentrate on specific work and projects down the road.” After all, “variety is the spice of life,” he quips.

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