Business

Engineers, Tech Workers in Demand for Pot Operators

By Willis Jacobson Oct 22, 2020
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Willis Jacobson is an award-winning journalist whose career has spanned both coasts. Now based on the Central Coast of California, he has covered cannabis news and issues since 2015.
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Willis Jacobson is an award-winning journalist whose career has spanned both coasts. Now based on the Central Coast of California, he has covered cannabis news and issues since 2015.
See my articles
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Engineers and other tech workers will be in particularly high demand for cannabis companies, a panel of employers said during a “Virtual Cannabis Career Fair” hosted Thursday by jobs platform Vangst.

Executives from three cannabis tech companies expressed confidence in the future expansion of the legal marketplace – they predicted federal legalization within the next five years – and in the need that will develop for workers to provide business solutions, like IT and other technical support.

Already driving that need, the panelists said, is the fact that cannabis businesses can’t use the same systems, like those for e-commerce or bulk ordering, as traditional companies, due to cannabis being federally illegal. But even after legalization, demand is expected to remain high.

“Data analytics is going to become increasingly important,” said Mark Sost, vice president of engineering for LeafLink, a wholesale platform. “And I think that’s also going to play a huge role [post-federal legalization] when all these liquidity, financial and logistics partners enter these spaces. How can they understand the market better?”

Staying flexible

Being able to constantly adapt to an ever-changing landscape is key to successfully working in the cannabis industry, the panelists said, and that’s especially true for those who work in technology.

Stacy Hopkins, a product manager for Flowhub, a software platform for retailers, noted that regulations – from a variety of agencies – can change frequently and with little notice.

“So you have to be super proactive, you have to know what’s coming and you have to be able to change instantly,” she said. “It’s very fast-moving and it’s very complicated and difficult.”

Chris Ostrowski, chief technology officer for Dutchie, an e-commerce platform said tech workers in cannabis have to stay prepared for a wide-range of outcomes. Not only could regulations change in an instant, but businesses can also initiate swift changes. If a company wants to go public, for example, it may request that all cannabis-related business be scrubbed from its coffers.

“A lot of it is not getting overly comfortable and confident in the tools and the services that are available to you,” he said.

Tech firms and workers are in such high demand because of those challenges unique to the cannabis industry. A cannabis company often can’t simply select an off-the-shelf e-commerce platform, or other needed software, in the same way that a traditional seller would. Instead, developers are creating new platforms for cannabis operators that deal with the industry’s complex regulations.

Ostrowski, with Dutchie, said the technology produced within the industry not only helps businesses from a practical standpoint, but is also “normalizing” an industry that still battles negative stigmas and stereotypes.

“I think the biggest thing that tech is going to help the cannabis industry with is really just kind of giving operators – whether they’re retailers, producers, growers – a sense [that] this is a normal industry for me to be working in because I have all the tools that I would have in any other industry that’s well established,” he said.

Focus on people

As the industry matures, the data compiled by technology firms and platforms could go a long way toward improving the customer experience, the panelists said.

Ostrowski noted that federal legalization will likely bring a “flood of first-time consumers” and said it will be incumbent upon the industry to ensure those new clients are well educated and informed. Technology, through apps and user-friendly platforms, could help achieve that.

It could also directly improve the user experience, said LeafLink engineer Sost, by formulating products with specific levels of THC and/or the most effective messaging for a particular consumer base.

Each of the firms represented on the panel is currently seeking employees in various departments. The panelists noted, though, that the industry isn’t for everyone.

Ostrowski, with Dutchie, said that workers will need to enter the space ready to “grind.”

“You’re going to have to want it,” he said, noting that capital and competition are both in abundance within the industry.

“It can’t be [overstated] how fast everybody’s going to have to move,” he later added.

Hopkins, with Flowhub, concurred. She said that working in the industry has changed for the better her perception of the so-called “stoner” and encouraged tech workers to give the industry a try.

“Yes, everything is more difficult and regulations change on a dime and so you have to be hungry and want it and earn it,” she said. “But you also have to really respect the people and the plant.”

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