Extracted Episode 14: Cannabis Careers with Alison McMahon

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The rapid, massive growth in the Canadian cannabis space presents a tremendous opportunity. It also brings a unique set of challenges from a hiring, training and HR perspective. It’s a good thing there are recruitment resources like Cannabis at Work.

In our latest episode of Extracted, we caught up with Alison McMahon, Cannabis at Work’s Founder and CEO, to talk about the hiring landscape and high demand jobs in the space. We also get into the HR side of things as Alison shares her valuable advice for employers and employees alike. Whether you’re hiring or looking to get hired, you’ll want to read on.


Uprooting the stigma.

While not long ago it was looked upon negatively to work in the cannabis space, the perception is rightfully changing for the better. Working in cannabis is being seen less and less as “career suicide” to work in cannabis, and as Alison points out, it can be a career accelerator.

“People are actually going to accelerate their careers by joining this sector because you are going to learn so much and you are going to be forced to do things out of your job description.”

As Alison notes, we’re moving further away from the stoner stereotype. For anyone who is still operating under the misconception that the cannabis industry is laid-back and relaxed, Alison reiterates that it’s quite the opposite. As we know, the cannabis industry is incredibly fast-paced with constant change.

“If people think that they’re going to get into this industry for a chill job, that will be a hard reality to face.”


Overcoming the HR obstacles.

The lightning-fast pace and rapid growth in this new industry mean hiring and on-boarding require careful consideration. With some LPs needing to bring on hundreds of people in a short amount of time, Alison says specialized HR programming is needed for this volume. To further complicate matters, the variation in how different LPs are set up, along with their proprietary cultivation practices mean that training can’t happen in a one-size-fits-all kind of way.
Now with edibles and extracts set to come online this October, the added requirement for training in different extraction methods becomes increasingly more important.

“It’s learning curves, embedded in learning curves, embedded in learning curves.”


High demand jobs across Canada.

The high-level hiring trends have certainly shifted since the first iteration of The Cannabis Act. Back then, says Alison, there were far fewer LPs and many of the open roles were in production, specifically cultivation and QA. Then as we got closer to legalization, it was more about “building out the supply chain” on the rec side with sales and business development roles.

Now as organizations continue to expand, Alison says production remains a “core need”. There is also significant retail hiring and as expected, more roles for extraction, formulations and product development. On that note: Join our team, we’re hiring!

Surprisingly, Alison says job openings are not limited to the expected major markets. While Ontario is understandably a “hotbed,” there is plenty of opportunity in other provinces including Atlantic Canada, which has been “ahead of the curve in embracing cannabis.”


The skills to be successful.

So what does it take to work in cannabis? It really depends on the type of role you’re looking for. You’ll obviously need to demonstrate relevant experience and a skill-set for the role. There are however key traits according to Alison needed to thrive in the space:

  1. You’re not scared by something that’s hard on the surface
  2. You want an adventure
  3. You want an environment where there’s a huge potential upside but also a ton of ambiguity and risk

Alison’s advice for those who are looking to break into cannabis is to first think about how your skills and experience apply to the industry. Then she says it’s simply about getting out there and doing some networking. For those who are interested, Cannabis at Work offers online training to provide people with a baseline understanding of the industry’s ins and outs. And again, if you’re interested in a career at Valens, be sure to check out our careers page for the latest openings.


Opportunity meets community.

The cannabis industry for Alison means huge opportunity in the realm of hiring and HR. But amid the craziness and growth, it’s the industry’s sense of community that has led to her belief that this is “the most authentic thing” she has ever been a part of. Not only has she met some of the “smartest and hardest-working people” in the cannabis space, but it has also helped to create lasting friendships. We couldn’t agree more that the sense of community in this space, even among competitors, is unparalleled.

“We’re all in this together, I think that there’s really that underlying sense…we’re all here to try to make this cannabis industry thing work, so we’re all rowing in the same direction.”



Learn more about jobs in the cannabis space by listening to the full episode. And keep an eye out for the first ever Cannabis Career Festival on September 27, 2019, in Toronto.