Cannabis com­pa­nies face hir­ing quandary

Winnipeg Free Press - - BUSINESS - ARMINA LIGAYA

TORONTO — A cannabis-re­lated crim­i­nal past won’t nec­es­sar­ily dis­qual­ify some­one from work­ing at one of the soon-to-be-open re­cre­ational pot shops across the coun­try, but for­mer dis­pen­sary work­ers’ knowl­edge and pas­sion can be seen as both an as­set and a risk, hir­ing man­agers say.

Al­though the av­er­age Cana­dian con­sumer will likely need guid­ance on how to shop for pot, there are “mixed feel­ings” about bring­ing peo­ple into the le­gal cannabis in­dus­try who have worked in the il­licit mar­ket, said Ali­son McMa­hon, chief ex­ec­u­tive of con­sul­tancy Cannabis at Work.

Reg­u­la­tors have been very clear that cannabis re­tail con­sul­tants can­not tell cus­tomers they will have a cer­tain ef­fect or med­i­cal out­come from us­ing the plant, she added.

“When peo­ple are re­ally pas­sion­ate about the plant, that can be al­most a reg­u­la­tory risk be­cause they might al­most over­step their bounds in terms of what they be­lieve and are go­ing to say about the plant that is not al­lowed from a reg­u­la­tory per­spec­tive,” she said.

If the can­di­date has the in­ter­per­sonal skills and self-aware­ness to toe that fine line, how­ever, they may be the right fit, McMa­hon added.

Cannabis com­pa­nies have been gear­ing up to hire and train em­ploy­ees in re­cent months to fill roles such as bud­ten­der at re­cre­ational cannabis stores ahead of le­gal­iza­tion this Wed­nes­day.

On­line job post­ings with the words cannabis, mar­i­juana, bud­ten­der and dis­pen­sary in their ti­tle have grown this year from two out of ev­ery 100,000 posts in Fe­bru­ary to 15 in Au­gust and 14 at the start of Oc­to­ber, ac­cord­ing to job-post­ing web­site In­

Mean­while, prov­inces such as On­tario have sig­nalled that il­licit dis­pen­saries which are look­ing to par­tic­i­pate in the le­gal frame­work for re­cre­ational cannabis sales must shut down their op­er­a­tions be­fore ap­ply­ing for a li­cence — leav­ing ex­ist­ing staff in limbo.

Work­ers with a back­ground in the grey or black mar­ket would have a fair shot at be­ing hired, and would be con­sid­ered on merit, said Natalie Wood, di­rec­tor of hu­man re­sources for mar­i­juana clinic op­er­a­tor Na­tional Ac­cess Cannabis (NAC). The com­pany is aim­ing to open 20 re­cre­ational cannabis stores by Oct. 17, con­tin­gent on li­cens­ing, and hire be­tween a dozen and 15 in­di­vid­u­als for each lo­ca­tion, she said.

All em­ploy­ees will be sub­ject to a crim­i­nal back­ground check, as re­quired un­der provin­cial leg­is­la­tion, but pre­vi­ous pos­ses­sion charges, for ex­am­ple, are not a deal-breaker, she added.

“We’re all deal­ing with some­thing that was a pro­hib­ited sub­stance that now is go­ing to be le­gal,” she said. “So we want to be able to, as an or­ga­ni­za­tion, make those judg­ment calls on the in­di­vid­u­als that we think is best for the or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Can­di­dates who have ex­pe­ri­ence in re­tail in­volv­ing unique prod­ucts, such as David’s Tea or Lush beauty prod­ucts, may be a good fit, McMa­hon said.

“There are a lot of good trans­fer­able skill sets... but it all comes down to whether you are the right per­son to work in the cannabis in­dus­try,” she said.

To help new hires who are new to cannabis, sev­eral re­tail­ers and prov­inces are de­vel­op­ing their own in­house train­ing pro­grams or out­sourc­ing that ed­u­ca­tion to bring em­ploy­ees up to speed.

For ex­am­ple, NAC is us­ing its own pro­pri­etary train­ing pro­gram while Lift & Co. has de­vel­oped a cannabis­re­tail train­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in con­junc­tion with MADD Canada. Lift’s course con­sists of both on­line and in-per­son train­ing mod­ules which walk em­ploy­ees through top­ics such as cannabis his­tory as well as re­spon­si­ble sell­ing skills.

Lift has signed con­tracts with the prov­inces of Nova Sco­tia and Prince Ed­ward Is­land as well as cannabis re­tail­ers Delta 9 and Spirit Leaf, said Nick Pat­eras, Lift & Co’s vice-pres­i­dent of growth and in­ter­na­tional strat­egy.

“We are en­ter­ing a pe­riod of launch­ing a new cat­e­gory, but our con­sumer base is naive, gen­er­ally, about what to buy and how to shop... The role of the re­tail staff is mag­ni­fied be­yond what it would be even in the case of other sec­tors, where re­tail plays an im­por­tant role,” he said.

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