industry voices

Industry Voices: How COVID-19 has Affected Cannabis Hiring

By Karson Humiston Aug 3, 2020
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Karson Humiston is CEO of Vangst.
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Karson Humiston is CEO of Vangst.
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It’s hard to write an upbeat article about employment these days. Ask anyone on the street, and they’ll tell you that COVID-19 is decimating the job market. As people are spending less, going out infrequently, and thereby slowing the economy, why on earth would a company be hiring new recruits?

While this is the painful reality in many industries like entertainment, travel, sports, and “non-essential” retail, there are plenty of sectors in which business owners can take a practical approach; with some necessary adjustments, they can continue almost as usual – maintaining, and even expanding, productivity.

Cannabis is such an industry. Let’s take a look at how this dynamic is playing out, and what the pandemic means to those looking to explore or return to employment in our sector.

Bad news, followed by good news

First, let’s hop a few months back to the early months of COVID-19. Almost as a reflex, cannabis companies followed the general trend to implement strategies to conserve cash. Personnel represents the largest slice of the expense pie chart for many organizations, and there were dramatic, painful waves of layoffs, both permanent and temporary (for those employees patient enough to wait it out). Even the most optimistic cannabis companies put expansion plans on hold and froze new hiring. As a matter of fact, almost 80% of the job openings listed on our Vangst platform vaporized… almost overnight.

The good news is that quick protraction was short-lived.

As the business world acclimates to the new normal – shifting from panic mode to survival/management mode – cannabis producers have begun to strategically and pragmatically plan for the next phase. Like alcohol, cannabis showed itself to be virtually recession-proof. Ironically, with the havoc that the pandemic is playing on our lives, there’s a predictable and logical spike in demand for a product to help us relax, sleep and reduce anxiety.

As such, the focus of the recent job rebound is more about the hands-on cultivation and extraction roles, rather than top-tier executive headcount. Croptober, as we call it, is around the corner, and the coronavirus isn’t slowing the growth of plants. Workers for each stage of the production process, at all levels of experience, are clearly once again very much in demand. Sales roles are continuing to return as well, along with other critical pieces of the sales cycle, including marketing. IT jobs are also surging as companies upgrade their online systems and e-commerce platforms.

The Road Back

As a virtual meeting place for employers and job seekers, Vangst has clear data that indicates that the number of positions are returning to near pre-COVID figures on our GIGS platform, the hiring space for temporary work. In these uncertain times where secondary shutdowns loom, employees and employers want to keep schedules fluid and flexible. For many employers still grappling to redefine schedules, priorities and logistical and financial constructs, temporary help is the right fit. In addition, our direct-hire service which vets and verifies permanent employees has also seen a surge. The pool of jobs is growing substantially in size and closing in on our pre-COVID numbers. 

While we’re certainly excited to see the cannabis industry steadily (but yes, gradually) return to previous levels of activity and hiring, we’re clearly not there yet. There are several obstacles still standing in the way of full productivity. For instance, social distancing guidelines restrict the number of people working and shopping in a dispensary at a given time, as well as the number of workers allowed in a closed growing or manufacturing space. These guidelines are key to slowing the virus and keeping the workplace safe, and thus continue to be taken seriously by responsible companies. They are taken so seriously, in fact, that most producers aren’t yet working much beyond 25% capacity.

Our hope, as a member of a young, aggressively expanding, dynamic community is that creative solutions and procedures can be devised and implemented as businesses streamline cannabis production and sales. They will keep their teams not only operational, but employment near normal levels, with sales increasing in a nation that has so much to benefit from our products. There are clear signs that this is the case, and we are confident that strategic companies, run by creative professionals with out-of-the-box tactics, can certainly keep the industry strong.

Karson Humiston is CEO at Vangst.

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