By Cassandra Dowell
Like the California Gold Rush of the 19th century, the legalized marijuana trade is attracting industry hopefuls nationwide with great expectations for working in this booming nascent sector.
If federal legalization takes place, U.S. retail marijuana sales revenues could reach $35 billion by 2020, surpassing the NFL, according to a report by GreenWave Advisors. Alternatively, if federal legalization doesn’t take place by 2020, GreenWave Advisors predicts revenue to climb to $21 billion.
Employment opportunities are riding the coattails of this burgeoning industry. The legalized marijuana industry in Colorado created nearly 16,000 jobs in 2014, according to Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division.
While many applicants are eager to develop new skills or share a certain expertise, the same facets of the industry that attract quality employees are the same that lure those who are ultimately a bad fit and lose businesses’ money through time spent in recruitment and training efforts.
Cannabis staffing agencies sort through the growing applicant pool, often saving businesses both time and money. “We are averaging close to 200 resumes a week,” said Stephen Sullivan, president of Denver-based Ms. Mary Staffing LLC, adding that the number of applicants continues to climb.
According to Sullivan, growers, trimmers, budtenders and retail dispensary positions are currently among the most in demand. However, Sullivan also reported that the employee turnover rate is high. “Staffing agencies help lower that because we find people who want a job in the industry and want to stay in it for the long haul,” he said.
Ms. Mary Staffing’s fee also includes a six-month insurance policy that will replace an employee who doesn’t work out during the first six months of being hired.
Much of the turnover can be attributed to the industry being so new, and both companies and employees are adapting to a “learning curve with company culture and employment law,” said Danielle Schumacher, partner at boutique marijuana recruiting firm THC Staffing Group. The company is based in both Boston, Massachusetts, and San Francisco, California.
“Some new employees find they’re not as committed as they thought,” Schumacher said. “You see high turnover across the board depending on what the job is and what factors lead that employee to be disappointed.”
For example, often those who are eager to work with marijuana plants underestimate the hard physical labor involved in cultivation. “They have a misconception of what the job will entail,” she said, adding that there is an expectation for someone new to the industry to do a wide range of tasks.
In addition to providing a third-party human resources arm, many cannabis staffing agencies offer payroll and other services that can reduce in-house business costs.
“It’s often easier and more cost-effective for businesses to outsource the recruiting process,” said Shaleen Title, partner at THC Staffing Group. “Especially when you don’t have a dedicated human resource person, owning a marijuana business can leave you pressed for time, particularly in the period before doors open in the newer markets.”
While some marijuana industry hopefuls might have unrealistic expectations about the jobs they seek, there are many qualified candidates who are bringing a range of skill sets to the sector.
“We see those with MBAs, those with prominent finance roles, those with PhDs in organic chemistry—they’re all looking to make a transition,” Sullivan said.
In addition, according to Title, the legalized marijuana industry presents a unique opportunity for a more diverse workforce than seen in other industries.
“Plenty of savvy business owners are seeking diversity in their hiring to be able to market to broader audiences,” Title said. “We’re seeing that a lot with businesses that hope to attract more women connecting with groups, like Women Grow. More diversity equals more innovation—and cannabis patients and consumers understand this. They reward businesses that reflect the values which changed the laws and created the industry.”
As interest in the sector continues to grow, cannabis staffing agencies are finding skilled and qualified candidates who fit the culture of the business quickly and efficiently, often saving businesses the time and money that would have been spent sorting through hundreds of applications. And by finding candidates who genuinely want a role in the industry, specialized recruiting firms help curb turnover by weeding out industry hopefuls who are a little too starry-eyed.