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Depending on the staffing firm or recruiting expert you speak to, either the cannabis industry is mainly underpaying its employees or correcting the issue as it matures into a billion-dollar market.
The lack of consensus does not take away from the fact that the space is one of immense potential and is already a job creator. Research conducted by Leafly found that cannabis supported over 321,000 full-time jobs in America as of January 2021. The report states that there are now more American cannabis workers than electrical engineers.
Cannabis largely surged during the pandemic as well. When most industries laid off, cannabis was able to create nearly 34,000 jobs that year. The same can be said for temporary staffing in the sector.
The booming market appears strong in early 2021, with experts saying several well-paying roles are in-demand. However, some in staffing say that salaries remain underwhelming in several key sectors.
A Wide Range Of Opportunities And Salaries
Cannabis is a large industry, covering a myriad of job functions. Analysis conducted last year by Wikileaf presented some of the varied roles and salaries attached.
In cultivation, a trimmer may make between $12 and $18 per hour. An assistant grower could vary between $45,000 and $70,000 per year, with master growers earning $100,000 or more. Dispensary jobs can find budtenders earning between approximately $31,000 and $42,000 per year. A shop manager can see their salaries swing wildly, with some earning up to $150,000 and others pulling in closer to $30,000.
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Danielle Schumacher, co-founder and CEO of THC Staffing Group, feels low salaries stem from entry-level positions that make up much of the industry. She said roles in retail, delivery, packaging, cultivation assistance, administrative and marketing all could be considered entry-level. She noted that specialized functions, like a lab tech, could also fall into the group.
“The pay is low for all of these positions, and if someone is lucky enough to get a promotion, the pay increase does not match the increased responsibilities,” said Schumacher, who reported that many assistant managers at dispensaries make less than $20 per hour.
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Sean Cooley, head of content and SEO for Vangst, said the wide range in pay is part of why Vangst publishes a yearly free salary guide. The company’s 2019 report found that salaries jumped 16.1% between 2017 and 2018. The analysis offered up even greater swings, with an extraction director making between $47,000 and $191,000 for the year, depending on experience and skill level. Less experienced and/or skilled heads of cultivation could earn a similar minimum salary as an extractor, but could earn over $250,000 at the top of their field.
Cooley reported that entry-level salaries continue to improve. However, experienced workers in other fields may be in for a momentary loss in wages when starting out. “If you’re crossing over from another field, you may be taking a temporary step back in order to gain valuable experience that will eventually propel your career forward as the legal market grows,” he said.
Staffing leaders say that the better-paying roles in cannabis are found like other industries, typically in positions requiring higher expertise or leadership responsibilities. As such, some of the top-paying careers include C-suite executives and facility management.
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“There is an opportunity for anyone, regardless of skill set, to find their fit in cannabis,” said David Belsky, founder of FlowerHire.
Liesl Bernard, founder and CEO of Cannabiz Team, said the right mix of experience, drive and knowledge are vital in landing any job. “With the popularity and acceptance of cannabis growing, talent from other industries are looking to transition into the cannabis industry,” said Bernard.
In addition to many of the careers already mentioned, Bernard said high-paying positions in testing lab management, e-commerce platform management and branding are all likely.
How To Get A Good Paying Job In Cannabis
Experts say applicants can stand out with a myriad of soft skills, including having clear communication, creativity and adaptability. Cannabis knowledge is beneficial but not mandatory, according to Bernard.
She added that related experience is suitable. “The popularity of cannabis and CBD drinks is rising, so experience in the food and beverage industry is desirable at this time,” Bernard said as an example.
While an understanding of the entire market isn’t expected, staffing leaders suggest that applicants educate themselves before applying. Schumacher recommends researching the whole supply chain and its sectors, but there isn’t an expectation for expertise.
“You don’t need to be an expert on everything; an overview of the cannabis economy is most important,” said Schumacher, recommending people look for critical industry points, including common denominators in the market, divergence in regulatory frameworks and the local culture.
“Talk to people who work in the industry or share your interests so you will have a more refined and realistic understanding of the landscape by the time you are writing a cover letter or interviewing,” said Schumacher. From there, she suggests defining minimum salary and benefits requirements.
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Cooley agrees about market education, suggesting applicants learn about the plant. He emphasized having a clearly defined relationship with the plant is excellent to have during interviews. “You don’t have to be a daily consumer by any means,” he said.
“Your story can even just relate to the positive impacts you’ve seen such as medical benefits or prison reform,” said Cooley, suggesting an applicant’s answers convey their eagerness.
Belsky agrees about education, from learning about products to how a company brands itself on social media. He noted that many hires now come from hospitality, retail, consumer packaged goods (CPG) and agriculture. However, he warns that those entering the space from such fields may need to adjust their expectations early on.
“Since the industry has not yet matured fully, job seekers need to be prepared to sacrifice title, salary and work-life balance to break into the space,” said Belsky, adding, “The first step in an exciting career journey is to find a role with a cannabis employer, achieve recognition and quickly advance up the ladder.”
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