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Professional designations and accreditation can be a meaningful and valuable way to differentiate the strength of the team behind a brand or company, and their ability to deliver operational excellence and quality.
Differentiation is necessary to stand-out whether operating a B2C or B2B business and has become increasingly important as the cannabis industry evolves. Driving this need is an increasingly sophisticated investor audience, proliferation of cannabis brands, and discerning consumer base.
After recently receiving the designation of Professional Chemist by the Association of the Chemical Profession of BC (ACPBC), we thought we would dive deeper into our head of Regulatory Affairs and Quality Assurance, Tom Ulanowski’s career and education path, how this relates to cannabis processing and the Nextleaf advantage.
Get to Know Tom Ulanowski, MSc, Professional Chemist (P. Chem), Chartered Chemist (C.Chem), and Articling Agrologist (A.Ag).
Tom first became involved in the legal cannabis industry in 2014, when he moved to BC after completing his Masters degree in Hydrogeology and Biogeochemistry, and left his role as a Laboratory Supervisor at the Biotron Experimental Climate Change Research Centre at Western University in London, Ontario.
He saw the demand in the nascent legal cannabis industry for risk tolerant professionals with scientific and technical backgrounds, particularly on the Quality Assurance side. It wasn’t long before he landed a position as Quality Assurance Person and Manager at BC’s first licensed producer, in Hope, BC.
After helping grow the operation from less than 10 team members to more than 60 people over a 3-year span, he knew he’d found his niche. Tom teamed up with Nextleaf in 2018 and has been invaluable in overseeing the successful licensing process for Nextleaf Labs.
Q: Why do you think pursuing accreditation, or designations are important for professionals in the cannabis industry?
Tom: Just like you want to have a registered engineer design your house to ensure it meets code and limit problems down the road, or a licensed mechanic perform work on your car, professionals like chemists, agrologists, and biologists ensure that cannabis companies can operate efficiently, deliver quality, and not compromise their ability to meet strict local, provincial, and federal regulatory requirements.
Q: Can you share a bit of insight on how each field (agrology and chemistry) apply to your career in cannabis?
Tom: Chemistry is a scientific discipline that involves working with elements and compounds. Agrology is a broad multidisciplinary field that encompasses the natural, economic, and social sciences related to the practice and understanding of agriculture and natural sciences.
In the context of cannabis and cannabis extraction, we are interested in the chemical composition of cannabis, which is a high-value agricultural product, and the ability for us to extract the chemical compounds of interest – namely cannabinoids such as THC or CBD – using efficient, scalable, and novel chemical engineering techniques.
Day to day, I rely on my foundational training as a chemist to interpret laboratory results and work with our team to refine our extraction and refinement processes, but always looking through the lens of an agrologist to better understand the cannabis we are processing.
Q: What’s involved in achieving your Chartered or Professional Chemist designation?
Tom: The titles Professional Chemist (used in BC) and Chartered Chemist (used in ON) are essentially interchangeable and differ primarily by how the respective professional association in each province refers to members who meet their professional standards.
Chartered and Professional chemists have completed an undergraduate degree in chemistry and have also met minimum requirements as dictated by each association. This includes 2-4 years of full-time work experience within a chemistry-related discipline after graduation, professional references, and members must also meet minimum academic, professional, and ethical standards.
They also have to document ongoing professional development activities (such as attending short courses, giving presentations, or serving on committees) to ensure that their professional knowledge is up to date. The public, government, and industry can then be confident that professional members have the competencies and accountability that meet their expectations.
Q: What additional industry specific continuing education would you recommend for those with a transferable science or technical background?
Tom: I encourage any professionals that are interested in a career change to consider taking post-secondary courses that are now being offered at various colleges and universities around Canada specific to Cannabis. I’ve been fortunate to teach a number of courses at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) in BC on cannabis production and facility management over the years, and it’s been exciting to see professionals from multiple industries dip their toes in this new sector.
In addition, take the opportunity to participate in industry-specific seminars, especially those that are now being offered virtually. Nothing is a substitute for real-world experience, so consider taking the plunge and getting involved with a reputable company in order to really experience what it’s like working in the highly-regulated legal cannabis industry.
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