Employers in the cannabis industry need to shift their focus from reactive hiring to thinking of themselves as builders of talent. With new assessments, big data, and predictive performance, we have the best training tools to identify adjacent skills, help people shift into emerging roles, and create clear career paths.

For individuals, the appetite for learning and continuous upskilling will create the route to better employment security in the cannabis industry. For organizations, creating a culture of learning so that workers are equipped and open to adapt – to move within the company or elsewhere – must be a strategic priority.

The cannabis industry has experienced solid growth, along with record-low unemployment, increased productivity, and improved consumer confidence so strong employment gains and high demand for talent have stretched an already tightened supply.

Human Resources (HR) in cannabis companies are leading the search for the small number of qualified candidates available to hire, increasing pay to attract talent, refocusing on retention and succession planning, and heightening the urgency around employee development.

The pressure on HR is acute, cannabis businesses are looking at HR and thinking that practitioners are not satisfying cannabis business needs because they haven’t found the people to fill critical roles (ex. Master Cannabis Cultivator, etc). They’re saying that HR is failing the business from a talent acquisition standpoint.

HR should take a holistic approach to create the workplace of the future and a longer-term view, anticipating the need and then using data to drive decision-making in where the cannabis company invests to buy versus build. To get in front of the problem, HR has to be at the center of programs created to align the needs of employers with the education being provided from pre-kindergarten through postsecondary schooling.

We are the bridge, HR should be looking at the generation coming up and asking what we need from that population―and then the group that’s coming behind them. That’s the strategic, sophisticated HR the cannabis industry needs.


Recruit Differently in the Cannabis Industry

Think ahead and curate a longer-term cannabis industry talent pipeline ahead of need. Start developing a relationship with top candidates a year in advance of an anticipated opening, so when the vacancy occurs, we know who we want, they know us, and we can fill the role within a week or so of the need.

Actively recruit from overlooked talent pools such as the formerly incarcerated, people with disabilities, workers returning from career breaks, and older workers. We’ve got to cast our net into different pools in the cannabis industry where we’ve never fished before.

We don’t have the luxury of leaving out significant portions of our population. Those different pools include people with criminal records, people with disabilities, and people who have paused their careers to care for family members.

A survey from the Charles Koch Institute found that many companies have not strongly considered candidates with a criminal record as a talent source – but are willing to do so. When asked why job offers were extended to individuals with criminal records, the majority of HR professionals want to hire the most qualified candidate irrespective of a criminal record.

Many people with criminal records are ready, willing, and able to work, it’s right – and encouraging – that many employers and workers are willing to give them a second chance. It is essential to emphasize equal pay, equal work, and equal expectations.


Focus on Qualities Candidates Must Have

Widen the top of the recruiting funnel by cutting requirements in job ads to what’s truly essential – tossing out education and experience nice-to-haves – and hiring for fit rather than technical mastery of the role.

Finding the best, qualified people in the cannabis industry irrespective of arbitrary barriers such as a bachelor’s degree forces us in HR and hiring managers to ask what the person needs to be able to do in the job and hire for that.

The first thing to do is toss the resume, they won’t necessarily reveal a candidate’s creativity, willingness to work hard, and love of learning.

A candidate’s potential is far more relevant than any skill pedigree they may show up with. Education and tenure requirements act as a proxy for skill so as we know, they are not the best proxy, and there are a lot of mismatches.

It is recommended that HR identify the core competencies needed for any job. The question is, how much of that must someone possess when they sit in the chair on day one versus how much can be trained or taught? With the way jobs are changing more quickly in the cannabis industry, we’re finding that more organizations are willing to hire for the core and make sure that the person has the necessary soft skills to navigate the workplace, and then train for the rest.

The soft skills – agility, creativity, teamwork, and ability to learn – will survive the automated future. The jobs that endure will be the types of jobs that are not easily automated, where human reasoning is required. Workers will be trained in what they need to do at the job, but they need to show up to work on time, work well with co-workers and customers, and show creativity and critical thinking to be the type of trainable model employee.

Experts recommend:

  • Offering internship assignments and mentoring opportunities to college students. Getting in front of younger students is a creative way to influence people earlier on so there are careers and industries that kids may not even know exist in the cannabis industry.
  • Recruiting outside of the local labor market and in parts of the country where there is a surplus of workers. You’ve got to go where the talent is, so increase flexibility and remote work options to attract those workers.

Cannabis Industry Raises Pay

In the end, cannabis companies will have to improve wages and benefits offerings to differentiate themselves in the cannabis industry. Surveys consistently find that when it comes to recruitment, retention, and job satisfaction, cash is king.

Employers have started competing for candidates by increasing bonuses and benefits faster than they increase salaries, cautiously preserving the flexibility to dial the perks back if the economy experiences another downturn. When businesses complain about labor shortages and skills gaps, the first thing is that it isn’t training/hiring barriers – it’s wages.

Simply put, if businesses can’t find workers – or can’t find cannabis industry workers with the right skills – they should raise their wage offers. Basic supply-and-demand logic suggests that doing so will broaden the pool of workers interested in the job and will make the job more desirable to applicants.

Competitive compensation is important but that paying people more is only part of the puzzle, cannabis industry workers care tremendously about learning and development opportunities, and creative career paths matter just as much.


Build Your Own Cannabis Industry Workforce

Change in the cannabis industry happens so quickly now that organizations consistently have to reinvent themselves… That means cannabis industry employees have to reinvent, too, by upgrading their skills and learning new ones. Rapid change causes those new skills to become obsolete quickly, so upskilling and reskilling will continue to be critical strategies, for learning and development.

Internal development is the most effective way to ensure success, use data to determine what capabilities and skills we are going to need to develop three to five years out when we look at how to fill that pipeline. Do we have to buy those skill sets, or can we develop them?

However, some employers are reluctant to pull workers away. You’re talking about taking employees you already have – they’re already doing their job, even if it may not be around in two years or five years – and training them for cannabis jobs in the future. So many companies are so focused on immediate needs that they lose focus on the future.

Cannabis companies that have been most successful with skilling programs have tied them to internal mobility. They’ve created career pathways, which lend more structure to a company’s skilling efforts. These programs have clear learning goals and progressive training, which lends clarity, motivation, and a sense of reward.

A rotation program to help employees develop new skills so selected individuals can do a one-month rotation at a smaller, high-performing hospital. Participants work alongside the leadership team in that facility to observe and learn what they do differently from other locations. The rotation program gives them a full immersion into a different culture that achieves consistent success in the core areas.

Rotation programs are often associated with better success, but very few companies use them because employees fear that time away from their job is damaging to their careers, and managers aren’t eager to give up their workers for a protracted period.

While participants are doing the rotation, we ‘backfill‘ their positions with high-potential employees to provide them with a development and skill-building experience at the same time. Knowing their responsibilities are covered frees those in the rotation to focus completely on learning while they’re away.

For the organization, it satisfies concerns about how that work will be done while also helping us prepare potential future leaders. Internal certification programs, partnering with third-party training providers (like us – Green CulturED), and offering financial assistance to employees for professional development have also been successful.


Find Cannabis Industry Partners

Go straight to the source and get involved in designing the curriculum that fits talent needs. The rate of change in cannabis industry developments far exceeds the capability of the college faculty to update the curriculum. Schools just can’t keep up.

But some higher-ed institutions are dealing with that by finding ways to create partnerships with local employers to help develop curriculum in exchange for a ready and qualified talent pipeline. So when it’s time to graduate, you can have offers in hand so it’s an easy way to curate a deep bench of prospective talent and helps us address the skills gap.

Alternative education models have emerged to meet cannabis employers’ growing demand, including sector-based technology ‘boot camps’ offering training in coding, design, and other digital skills applicable in fields as diverse as health care and marketing.


The Other Cannabis Industry ‘Ships’

Unlike internships, apprenticeships are often overlooked as a way to recruit top talent so there is a need to demystify and destigmatize the whole concept of apprenticeships in the cannabis industry.

There’s this mentality that you must enter a college-type environment if you want to be successful and have an upward career track. Offering apprenticeships are the perfect way to help close the skills gap because employers can customize on-the-job training and instruction to the position.

Let us know what you think.