Being the dream cannabis industry hire does not entail being a stoner. Perhaps unexpectedly, caring about weed, those in the industry told HR Dive, isn’t necessarily important.
Christina Odom, senior manager of talent acquisition at cannabis staffing firm Vangst, doesn’t do keyword searches for “cannabis” or anything of the sort while recruiting. “I’m not looking for how much knowledge you have in the cannabis industry — when you come on board with a client, they're going to help you get up to speed on what that looks like,” Odom said. At her own company, employees consistently attend hourlong trainings on everything from the science of weed to compliance with relevant laws. “Learning about the industry will come as you go, especially when you care about what you do,” she added.
What she is looking for, she said, is how a candidate’s background fits the needs of specific businesses.
Meanwhile, Socrates Rosenfeld focuses on whether a candidate has the best opportunity to thrive at Jane, the business-to-consumer cannabis company where he serves as CEO. He told HR Dive that his staffing approach is reminiscent of a chef. Great meals aren’t solely the result of difficult or showy culinary techniques. Chefs, Rosenfeld said, “always say they just have really good ingredients and let the ingredients speak for themselves.”
He added, “We go find not necessarily the best people, but the right people who will be a good fit, who are aligned with our mission and ultimately, are just special human beings. And we put them on a dish — in a scenario — where they can shine.”
Rosenfeld’s culinary analogy may not be that far-fetched: Those in cannabis often lure talent from the food service industry. Restaurant workers apply their hands-on skills and customer service prowess to jobs like plant trimming and budtending (like bartending, but for cannabis). This phenomenon has been documented in Kansas City, Missouri, as well as throughout Michigan. Colorado, the storied weed hub of the U.S. and the site of an ever-expanding restaurant scene, is a battleground for this tug-of-war.
The trickle of restaurant talent to cannabis has been steady, according to Sonia Riggs, president and CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association. Anecdotal reports of this hospitality industry exodus, as Riggs called it, date back to late 2012.
“Study participants attributed this to higher pay at cannabis production facilities, along with employees’ perception of decreased job stress at these facilities,” she said via email, adding that some local operators say food service workers that leave for cannabis return to the restaurant industry. “It’s not as rewarding a switch as anticipated,” she explained.
To combat this, Colorado restaurant-owners have increased staff wages — particularly since the pandemic began. Health insurance, educational stipends, and health and wellness programming are a “more and more common part of restaurant compensation packages,” she said.
Because of the “start-up nature” of the industry, many cannabis talent acquisition professionals emphasize adaptability. Further, Black and brown recruiters in the space continue to be vocal about the need for greater racial inclusion. Odom, taking cues from her time at BeyondMeat, put it like this: “Anybody can eat a plant-based product. We're not just trying to pinpoint just vegetarians or vegans.” The goal was to get all people on board with plant-based meat. In her job connecting talent to weed companies with open roles, she said seeks to help clients understand that their cannabis consumers are “an array of colors.”
HR Dive spoke to Odom in the early days of her Vangst appointment. From the get-go, Odom’s approach was to set up client meetings with all kinds of qualified candidates. Eight weeks in, she said, “I'm not really giving them the option to pick and choose who they want to meet with. That's been my strategy for years.” Vangst clients were receptive and in those two months, hires were made from Odom’s efforts.
This ethos comes from a personal place — she spoke on her experiences of being the “only” in many rooms. “I'm sitting in a Zoom meeting and looking at all the faces across the board, and I'm like, ‘Where are the other me's?’ The LGBTQ people, women in leadership positions.”
Odom expressed her belief that as the market grows, business leaders will want to “shadow” their competitors and be innovative. One way cannabis companies can “go to the next level,” she said, is by hiring diverse talent.
At Jane, DEI is even embedded into the site’s framework: users can filter for dispensaries or weed services owned by veterans, by Black and Indigenous entrepreneurs or other people of color, by women and by queer people.
A key part of Rosenfeld’s inclusion approach is also cultivating psychological safety. What, in his opinion, are the stand-out qualities of a candidate who can help create this kind of positive work environment?
“Love for themselves. Love for others. You know, if they love the industry or the plant, that's wonderful, if they love their craft, like engineering or design, that's wonderful. There's got to be some love, a sense of self […] Not necessarily: ‘I know exactly who I am,’” he continued, adding that life is about getting back to the self. “But the willingness and courage and curiosity to go and explore the self — to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”