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Cannabis Courses Coming to More Colleges in Canada as Legalization Approaches

cannabis leaf drawn on blackboard

Okanagan College in British Columbia has a mandate in place wherein they help to serve the needs and interest of the businesses in the community. It is because of that mandate that Sunniva, a licensed cannabis producer, reached out to form a partnership with the school once they built a greenhouse and manufacturing facility in the area. For their 2019 launch, Sunniva will need more than 200 employees, and they don’t just want anyone; they want highly-trained individuals that understand the production cycles of cannabis, the biology of the plant, and the business side of the cannabis industry.

The courses at Okanagan are usually created with information provided by the government in order to determine what classes should focus on based on the workers that are needed in the region. With the marijuana industry barreling full-force onward, however, that wasn’t possible. The college then decided to create an advisory board to which Sunniva and a local crop consulting service, Crop Health could present and explain the skills that are necessary for their employees to possess. As a result, Okanagan is rolling out several new cannabis-related courses this fall, encompassing everything from business courses focused on the cannabis industry to growing procedures and proper pest management.

Dr. Tony Holler, the CEO of Sunniva, said: “Right now we’re forced to hire outside the industry and then train people ourselves. That’s costly; it takes time. We reached out early on to Okanagan College and said listen this is going to be a big industry in the future, the college should start an educational program. They’re trying to support the industry, which desperately needs it.”

Okanagan isn’t the only post-secondary school to work with the marijuana industry to train students prior to Canada’s legalization this October. The new sector is sure to bring in thousands of jobs, and the need for highly-trained and skilled individuals is great. The hiring spree has already started; cannabis-related job postings have more than tripled on Indeed from last year, as of July of this year. Not only that, but the types of jobs are changing and evolving, also.

Vice president of Canopy Growth, Jordan Sinclair said: “Production […] was really something that we had to focus on almost a full calendar year ago to make sure that we had the platform to be able to fill the demand. The next wave that comes has got to be the sales teams in order to satisfy all these accounts. […] Then the retail teams get layered on top of that and that’s kind of where we are in the process.”

Durham College in Ontario is among the many schools starting to focus on more cannabis-business-oriented classes. Durham has already seen 350 students complete the course Medical Cannabis Fundamentals for Business Professionals, a two-day intensive course that launched in 2017.

This fall, they’ll be expanding the cannabis-related courses by establishing a cannabis industry specialization program for their curriculum, which will contain six courses. The course is intended for those who already have a degree in business. It’ll be offered as both a physical class and as an interactive online simulcast along with the class. Students must be over the age of 19 to enroll.

To make this program a reality, Durham partnered with Molecular Science Corp, GrowWise Health, Ample Organics Inc., CannaInvestor Magazine, and Cannabis at Work. They hope to eventually integrate cannabis programs into their other specializations, like nursing, engineering, and human resources.

Durham College’s dean of the school of continuing education, Debbie Johnson said: “There can be in some cases this perception that, ‘I’m going to go and work in a cannabis company, and what do those people do all day? Well they must be smoking and getting high and having lots of fun.’ This is one of, if not the most highly regulated industries in the world and what they’re looking for are people who are really serious about working in the industry.”

Knowledgeable retail staff are also desperately needed. Retailer Fire and Flower has entered into a partnership with the College of the Rockies to train future retail employees for the 40 plus stores they plan to open in Western Canada after legalization in October. Fire and Flower’s vice president of human resources, Jesse Cheetham said that his company sees more to the retail employee’s job than merely selling the products. He expects these staff members to educate the customers about marijuana and the industry as a whole. They can’t do that without proper education and training.

“With cannabis it’s always been taboo to talk about, to use openly, and now we as an industry need to make that normalizing happen in a period of months. So it’s a huge gap to fill in a short time. It’s a huge responsibility,” he said.

The course offered at the College of the Rockies is 26 weeks long, is offered four times a year, and includes a practicum placement.

The medical marijuana field has already been able to offer students hands-on opportunities. Both Canopy Growth and Ontario’s Niagara College, for example, have run co-op placements for several students.

Canopy’s Sinclair, a former teacher, said: “We’re all responsible for building the industry. We don’t have an infinite talent pool of people who know how to build in the cannabis space, we have to build that capacity ourselves. It’s almost like self-preservation.”

As the cannabis industry is so new and young, it’s constantly changing. Institutions will have to continue working closely with employers to ensure they don’t fall behind. An instructor for business and cannabis courses at Ryerson University, Bradley Poulos, expects to have to make a lot of changes to his lesson plans on the fly, especially as legalization swiftly approaches.

“The first people that are involved aren’t academics sitting in an ivory tower somewhere, these are people who are involved in the industry. It’s a very fluid world. Anyone who is involved with it will have to live with the fact that they will need to keep learning,” he said.

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