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In Case You Missed It: Workforce Development Considerations for the Commercial Cannabis Industry

On May 19, the Detroit Regional Chamber gathered industry experts to discuss key workforce development considerations for commercial cannabis employers looking to attract talent in the region.

Laura Dinon, senior attorney at Plunkett Cooney opened the conversation by showcasing the rapid growth of the cannabis industry in Michigan and the impact its having.

“There are now in Michigan the same amount of legal cannabis workers as there are auto mechanics,” said Dinon.

With this rapid growth comes rapid hiring. Dinon also noted an uptick in unionization in this sector, which is a critical consideration for workforce development. Because that is such a case-based circumstance, Dinon advises employers to consult a labor lawyer if the being to see interest in unionizing to guide them through the process.

Eric Foster, group director of Strategy and Business Development for Banks & Company LLC and national policy director of cannabis and hemp policy for Minorities for Medical Marijuana, highlighted the need for active engagement from government, workforce development, and education institutions in this growing sector.

Collaboration with these agencies on training and regulation will help bolster this new workforce and create stable, sustainable career opportunities for people.

Dinon and Foster then joined an expert panel addressing key workforce development topics.

Advice for Employers

Matt Hoffman, chairman of Our Cannabis offered some key guidance for employers seeking to build out their workforce.

  • Start an internship program. It is a great way to get fresh, young ideas into your businesses.
  • Create an employment model with upward mobility. “People want to know that they can start somewhere, anywhere, and they can develop a career,” said Hoffman.
  • Listen to your staff. They’re in the day-to-day operations and offer insight that will help economize your business.
  • Stop hunting for unicorns while recruiting. Hire for mindsets, attitudes, enthusiasm, and cultural fits to give people an opportunity to get into the field.
  • Provide health insurance and benefits.

Insurance Agent and Cannas Capital Cimone Casson emphasized the importance of offering benefits to employees. When recruiting, a lot of your talent is doing a tradeoff.

“Because it is not federally legal, they’re giving up 401Ks, retirement plans, and a host of other things to be able to participate in this industry,” she said.

When you’re looking at retention, a major factor is going to be the benefits you offer. It is a lot cheaper to retain an employee than to hire a new one, said Casson, and strong benefits are key to that. She also noted, the better your hiring process is, the cheaper your insurance is.

“A top-notch handbook is essential,” said Dinon. “It gives a place to go and path to follow…It tells people what you expect of them. It tells them what to expect from you.”

She advises the most important thing employers can do is have consistently written legally sound policies specific to your business and those consistent with state and federally compliant policies – i.e. parental leave, non-competes, benefits, etc.

Skills and Training

There are a host of professional skills that can directly translate to opportunities in the commercial cannabis industry. Because the job market is so hot in cannabis, HR and recruiting positions are currently in demand, said Hoffman. Similarly, food service skills can translate to “budtending” and scientific research plays a direct role in the cannabis industry. Foster also mentioned the parallels to the automotive industry through process and operational engineering, plant management, etc.

Though some higher education institutions are starting to implement commercial cannabis-related curriculum, there is more work to be done to ensure productive training.

“It does help, and we need more of that sort of curriculum-based programming for the cultivation side, but also, for the testing lab side, for the logistics with secure transporters because that is logistics, shipping, delivery – those model skillsets,” said Foster. “But also, even management and marketing on the retail side.”

Partnerships with Government and Workforce Development Agencies

An important way for these agencies is to fund – or partner with in a meaningful way – resources like Our Cannabis to offer guidance and information for employers and job seekers alike.

It is critical to have these agencies step in and become the certifiers and governing authorities of the industry to lend credibility and standards, said Foster. This will also help combat predatory employment practices that need to be regulated. Further, noted Casson, creating these unified standards for certifications and training is key.

“If we want to create a level playing field, we have to be able to all speak the same language,” said Casson. “There should be a form of education. That would be able to do two things. It would create a fair market for the commodity…in addition to that it also creates a level playing field for the individuals actually going out for the jobs.”