Finding the right career is all a matter of chemistry. It’s about combining the right skills and talents to create a unique and rewarding career. And while her resume says Professional Chemist, it would be easy to call Funmilayo Atilola a ‘professional career chemist’ as well.
Today, Funmilayo is an Intermediate Environmental Professional at DWB Consulting Services in Fort St. John’s, British Columbia. While she’s found a position that brings all her skills and talents together, it was Funmilayo’s love for chemistry as a child that started her on her career journey.
“Even as a kid, I wanted to pull all the blues and yellows together to get my green,” says Funmilayo.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Pure and Applied Chemistry from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology in Nigeria, Funmilayo secured a position as a chemist in a petroleum storage facility.
a new career element would enter Funmilayo’s life that would take her out of the lab and into the field; a passion for learning and problem-solving.
“I love the petroleum industry. But when I found out we [the company] were bringing in all these innovations, resources, and revenue for the country while at the same time, polluting and damaging the future of the country, it made me concerned,” says Funmilayo.
“That’s when I started looking into solutions that could still provide innovations and fuels that would be sustainable so that we would still have our environment after 100 years.”
Moving Forward and Abroad
Funmilayo was soon implementing the innovative solutions from the lab in the field, and coordinating all the scientific aspects of environmental projects in the storage facility.
As her role changed to Environmental Manager, Funmilayo completed her Master’s Degree in Environmental Management from the University of Lagos.
In 2018, Funmilayo and her family, including her six-month-old twin boys, decided to immigrate to Canada, settling in Calgary, Alberta. Funmilayo wanted to continue growing her career but knew she would need help bridging her education and experience from Nigeria into Canada.
“Even before I moved, I was researching certification and authority bodies in Canada to help with my professional development,” says Funmilayo. “I applied to the Immigrant Bridging Program with ECO Canada, which was strictly for new environmental professional immigrants.”
Funmilayo was selected as a program applicant, completing the online courses at home while taking care of her two growing boys and adapting to a new life in Canada.
After completing the bridging program, Funmilayo was selected as one of the 25 applicants to receive an ECO Canada funding grant for employers.
With her previous experience in Nigeria, Funmilayo only required a year of Canadian working experience to start her Environmental Professional in-training (EPt) certification.
However, she found herself in a situation many career seekers do; she was overqualified for entry-level positions, yet underqualified for intermediate-level positions.
“Because I was at the intermediate level, I couldn’t get an entry-level job because I was too qualified,” says Funmilayo. “At the same time, I had gaps that I needed to fill to be able to get an intermediate-level position in Canada. So I was floating in between.”
After taking additional courses through ECO Canada, Funmilayo was able to combine all her experience to secure a job at an environmental laboratory. Writing reports, managing projects, navigating Canadian environmental law; Funmilayo took every opportunity to learn and grow her skills.
Bridging The Gap Through Mentorship
Funmilayo was enjoying her time in the lab but was missing being out in the field and a few months into her job, Funmilayo was questioning if she needed to go back to school to get another Master’s Degree. But, a call from ECO Canada’s mentorship program changed her mind.
“ECO Canada found me a mentor that also had a chemistry background,” says Funmilayo. “She helped combine all my skills and also pushed me to begin looking at environmental data analysis courses. She opened my eyes to instead of going for another master’s degree, to getting [a] specifically tailored education for bringing me into the industry.”
Funmilayo took courses from the University of Calgary, all while maintaining a full-time job and raising two baby boys. She admits that it was a lot of work, but with the flexibility of evening and weekend classes, managing the workload was possible.
When the opportunity at DWB Consulting Services in Fort St. John opened, Funmilayo was confident in her skills to apply for the position. She was ready to write her Environmental Professional (EP) Certification exam, a requirement for the position when COVID-19 lockdowns started.
As exams kept getting postponed as lockdowns lengthened, Funmilayo was able to work with her employer to start her new role as long as she completed her EP exam within her first three months. It should come as no surprise, she successfully completed her exam and received her EP designation in September 2020.
Creating a Dream Job
And the work has paid off as Funmilayo’s current position sounds like it was made for her.
“I manage all the water quality projects, any job that brings a combination of data, with IT, with environmental science, with chemistry; those are the jobs that come to me. The combination of it excites me,” says Funmilayo.
Her position in Fort St. John not only brought her closer to the work she loves but to what she loves most, her family. Each day, she’s able to go home for lunch and do more activities after work, spending time with her twins instead of spending time in traffic. Relocation is one of those opportunities that Funmilayo stresses career seekers, especially immigrant career seekers, should be open to.
“A lot of [immigrant families] move to the big cities, but there are great opportunities in the smaller communities that you might not get in the bigger cities,” says Funmilayo.
While Funmilayo has put in the work and dedication to building her career to where it is today, she’s quick to thank ECO Canada for the support along the way.
“I had funding for professional development courses which helped me in my career. I was introduced to a mentor who helped shape exactly where I should be, encouraging me, giving me all the support I needed—the mentorship program is the best, as far as I’m concerned—I want to give a huge thank you,” says Funmilayo.
A chemist’s work is never done. Funmilayo is still introducing new elements to her career mix, such as completing her Professional Chemist (P. Chem) designation and she’s currently working toward her Contaminated Sites Approved Professionals (CSAP) designation.
“Any opportunity you have to learn something, a new skill, a new opportunity, just grab it,” says Funmilayo. “You never know what is going to make you astounding when you have a hundred other people with [the same] level of education, level of experience, as intelligent, as awesome as you are…there has to be something that makes you stand out.”
But when she looks back on the shining moments of her career, it’s not the designations or courses that make Funmilayo most proud.
“When there’s a problem and I’m able to convince people to brainstorm and come up with a solution, those have always been the shining moments throughout my career. These are the true, important things to me.”