Why More Professional Training in the Cannabis Industry is Needed

By Kent Gruetzmacher
Published: June 1, 2017 | Last updated: April 21, 2022 08:38:42
Key Takeaways

The marijuana industry is booming, and companies are fiercely competing for a relatively small pool of qualified employees. In response, more educational institutes are preparing students for interesting and potentially lucrative careers in the weed industry. Kent Gruetzmacher chatted with two cannabis education leaders to get their perspective on filling the employment gap.

For the traditional American business entity, the employee hiring process is largely hinged upon the verifiable education and employment history of a candidate. With little effort, human resource and management teams can easily access college transcripts and work references while vetting applicants, making the practice of qualifying potential employees rather routine.


Looking to the cannabis space, modern marijuana businesses have a resounding need for qualified employees. Yet, staffing challenges reverberate throughout the cannabis industry—largely due to the lack of the professional and vocational training seen in the traditional job market.

As the legitimate marijuana setting continues to grow and evolve, it’s constantly exposing new business pitfalls that are precariously hinged on exciting opportunities for prosperity. The job search and hiring process surrounding the many facets of cannabis commerce illustrates this notion well—inferior management procedures can sink a business while still it’s in its infancy.


While marijuana-oriented academic institutions such as Oaksterdam and THC University have helped appease some of the need for verifiable employee training, post-secondary schools such as Northeastern Institute of Cannabis (NIC) in Massachusetts and University of Denver (DU) in Colorado have also devised platforms in which industry hopefuls can learn the basics of the contemporary marijuana business world.

Through these forward-thinking programs, cannabis industry employers can access educated prospects that are presented in qualitatively and objectively palpable fashions.

Maximum Yield contacted Paul Seaborn, professor of DU’s Business of Marijuana class, as well as NIC’s dean of faculty, Cara-Crabb Burnham, to help us get a better feel for the modern university cannabis education.


MY: What are most of your students looking to do with their education in the cannabis industry?

Seaborn (DU): The students seem to fall into three categories. A few intend to enter the cannabis industry immediately upon graduation and have already been pursuing internships and making connections in preparation. Another group are open to the idea of working directly or indirectly in the cannabis industry but are also pursuing non-cannabis options. The remainder are interested in the topic for a variety of reasons but do not have any plans to work in the industry.

Crabb-Burnham (NIC): Most of our grads are looking to start a career in the cannabis space. Many of them are planning to start at the beginning, but we also have several grads that love the careers they have already established and want to apply what they know to the cannabis industry.


MY: Does your school offer vocational training? If so, what type?

Seaborn (DU): No. My course is not designed for those looking to develop industry-specific skills around growing, trimming, budtending, etc., nor is it only designed for those seeking an immediate cannabis-related job. Instead, the course provides a broad overview of the cannabis industry, starting with the historical and legal foundations of the industry and then the business impacts across the major areas of business—management, strategy, finance, accounting, marketing, real estate, ethics, etc.—along with exposure to industry leaders and their current challenges.

Crabb-Burnham (NIC): That is exactly what we offer. We offer a broad and basic program preparing our grads for any entry-level position and enough basic knowledge to determine where they best fit in the space. Our program covers everything from science to history and cultivation to medical applications of cannabis.

“For many of these companies, it is not difficult to find candidates willing to work in the industry, but it is difficult to find candidates who understand business fundamentals.”

MY: Has your school been contacted directly by employers looking for candidates and graduates?

Seaborn (DU): In recent months, our school has been in dialogue with a number of major companies in the Colorado market about their human resources challenges. For many of these companies, it is not difficult to find candidates willing to work in the industry, but it is difficult to find candidates who understand business fundamentals and are interested in long-term career opportunities rather than just the short-term allure of having a cannabis job. Retaining top employees is also a challenge for them in such a rapidly expanding industry.

My course is one way we can help to develop potential candidates, but I expect that as a school we will also find other ways to partner with the Colorado industry to address their needs.

Crabb-Burnham (NIC): Yes, we have been contacted by several dispensaries that are in the hiring process. They are looking for both grads to employ and also for training for their staff. Massachusetts requires 8 hours of job specific training annually, we have those programs available to the dispensaries, helping them keep in compliance.

MY: Do you feel like your candidates have a leg up on the competition above other hopefuls looking to enter the cannabis industry?

Seaborn (DU): Yes, for those who are focused on the management aspects of the industry. Prior to the introduction of this new course, our students had minimal opportunity to learn about the cannabis industry even though the Colorado cannabis industry was rapidly expanding right outside their door.

With this course, the students will not only become much more familiar with the challenges and opportunities that exist, but also have a chance to meet many industry leaders who could become their future employers.

Crabb-Burnham (NIC): I do, mostly because the dispensaries have agreements with the towns they are opening in and they are often asked to hire locally for any open positions.

In Massachusetts, we haven’t had an industry before, therefore these hiring managers have to look at many different aspects than just cannabis experience. Our grads are prepared to answer nearly any question that a patient or consumer may have.

Conclusion: There is no question that there is a huge economic boom within the cannabis industry, but the room for error is extremely slim for marijuana-oriented start-up businesses.

This important notion lends major credence to the need for the sort of educational training provided by DU, the NIC, and other institutions as a sound team of employees can be the difference between success and failure.

It appears these progressive programs may very well be the catalysts for translating and expressing cannabis oriented skill-sets and knowledge in a mutually comprehensible fashion, for the benefit of all.


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Written by Kent Gruetzmacher | Writer, Owner of KCG Content

Profile Picture of Kent Gruetzmacher

Kent Gruetzmacher MFA is a Colorado-based writer and owner of the writing and marketing firm KCG Content. Kent has been working in the cannabis and hydroponics space for over a decade. Beginning in California in 2009, he has held positions in cultivation, operations, marketing, and business development. Looking specifically to writing, Kent has worked with many of the leading publications and marketing agencies in the cannabis space. His writing has been recognized by such icons as Steve D’Angelo and Rick Simpson.

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