The most recession-proof jobs in cannabis right now, according to recruiting experts

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  • While no job in the ever-growing field of cannabis is truly “recession-proof,” experts warned, there are some roles that are more likely to last through the pandemic than others.
  • Growers and cultivators who work directly with the plant are both fairly stable jobs, as well as those in delivery.
  • There’s also always going to be a need for compliance help, whether in accounting, legal, or licensing.
  • “Operators cannot function without these bedrocks, and businesses are regularly looking for staff that can add value to those departments to maintain the required state and local licenses and continue uninterrupted operations,” said Cannabiz Team founder Liesl Bernard.
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With millions of Americans filing for unemployment benefits in recent weeks, an emphasis on job safety is likely a key concern for those searching for a new job. If true, then the cannabis industry could see a flood of new applicants seeking what some may consider a “recession-proof career.”

While fantastic in theory, the consensus among staffing leaders is that there’s no career in cannabis that’s truly safe from substantial market downturns. 

“While continuing operations have helped many businesses stay open, the financial and regulatory burdens they face in normal times, coupled with the strains caused by the pandemic, have kept the industry in a very precarious position,” said Morgan Fox, media relations director for the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA).

Fox said that while some cash reserve-rich companies may be hiring right now, many large players are selling off assets and dismissing employees. Small businesses are worse off, he added, because “lack of access to federal relief funds or banking services are exacerbating these pressures.”

That said, Cannabiz Team founder Liesl Bernard believes that the market’s mostly positive performance during the ongoing pandemic is an encouraging sign. “As an overall industry, the past three months have proven that the cannabis sector is healthier than most any other industry, with the possible exception of online retail,” she said.

During the pandemic, Bernard reported experiencing a 100% increase in temporary job listings on Cannabiz Team’s website. Bernard, whose firm fills permanent and temporary roles for clients such as Harborside, Acreage Holdings, and Kiva Confections, credits the newness of the cannabis industry and its need to scale to its current good health. 

“All parts of the supply chain are hiring new staff for everything from store managers to cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and compliance experts,” said Bernard.

She also credits the federal Schedule 1 classification of marijuana, often a severe market pain point, as a contributor to the job demand. Products can’t be shipped across state lines due to marijuana’s scheduling and federal laws banning interstate transporting. As such, Bernard said that a new person must fill roles in every state marketplace to keep the operation functioning without any products going over state lines. In doing so, a spike in job needs has been created, for now.

“Over time, we are confident the Schedule 1 issue will be resolved, and we will see vigorous interstate commerce,” said Bernard. “But for now, this inefficiency actually works to the local state’s benefits in terms of job creation.”

Roles in cultivation, delivery, and compliance are best suited for the downturn

Many eyes are on dispensaries as of late. The logic stems from the recent decision by numerous states to keep its dispensaries open as “essential businesses” during the stay-at-home orders.

Devin Penhall, director of client strategy for HerbForce, the cannabis arm of staffing firm ForceBrands, said that the essential status bestowed on most dispensaries is an indicator for stable careers in the short term. Penhall, whose clients include Pax and Dosist, said that because of the shift from in-store purchases to online shopping, delivery and fulfillment roles should endure during the pandemic. 

“If there were any truly recession-proof jobs, it would likely come down to those key roles that actually touch the plant, like growers and cultivators,” he added. “If we don’t have people to grow the product, then we don’t have a product.”

Kara Bradford, cofounder and CEO of the cannabis recruiting firm Viridian Staffing, an NCIA member since 2014, agreed that any role that entails physical labor should be relatively safe for the near future. According to Bradford, such positions include a range of processing workers, from extraction machine operators to pre-rolled joint rollers. 

While automation is a concern, Bradford said physical labor wouldn’t be phased out anytime soon.

Bernard added that vital expert support in financing, accounting, legal, licensing, and compliance fit into processing ventures as well. 

“Operators cannot function without these bedrocks, and businesses are regularly looking for staff that can add value to those departments to maintain the required state and local licenses and continue uninterrupted operations,” she said.

Expect a more competitive cannabis job market going forward 

Penhall warned that because there have been so many layoffs in other industries cannabis may become even more competitive to break into, especially now that many job seekers know it’s considered essential business.

Bradford suggested that job seekers looking to stand out focus on being adaptable. “Everyone just needs to be patient, flexible, and agile,” he said. “We’re having to change processes, policies, and procedures.”

Penhall added, “They should be open to working in a new environment and be passionate about it — not just as a short-term job fix, but from a long-term career standpoint.”

Delivery may be easier to transfer tangential job skills over to, but that doesn’t eliminate opportunities in compliance and cultivation. Roles with an emphasis on any of the following job functions may pique an employer’s interest. Applicants should assess their resumes and include all training and expertise. With the industry in such a need for talent, a diverse resume can help an applicant get noticed and become part of the team. 

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