Staffing and Recruitment Secrets to Keep Growth on Track

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Illustration: Normform / Shutterstock

Keeping up with employment trends and regulatory shifts in cannabis is a tall task, but the changes the industry saw in 2021 present huge opportunities for business owners. This is especially true when it comes to maintaining a sustainable workforce that can withstand whatever changes come next and keep companies’ plans for growth on track.

With businesses in emerging markets seeking experienced leadership and delivery services and consumption lounges on the rise, employment is evolving rapidly. Additionally, there remains an ever-present need for budtenders, cultivators, and extractors.


In my past three years supporting cannabis clients on the employment front — and more than twenty years in the general staffing industry before that — I’ve seen a lot of changes in the way companies approach candidate attraction and retention, as well as how job-seekers view their prospects in the industry. To maintain your business footing and avoid getting mired in employee churn, keep the following trends in mind.

We entered 2022 with approximately 321,000 workers in the United States industry, a number that grows as each new legalized market comes online. Despite the impressive scale of the workforce, some job candidates hesitate to transfer their skills from traditional fields to cannabis, which frequently is viewed as volatile or stigmatized.

Fortunately, stigma continues to erode as more states opt for legalization. Additionally, moves by companies outside the cannabis sector to eliminate drug testing for cannabis, as Amazon did last year, mark a significant business shift toward acceptance.

As more workers find themselves burned out in high-risk and low-wage positions in other sectors like retail and hospitality, cannabis companies have the opportunity to emphasize the professionalism of their operations and the growth opportunities presented by the industry as a whole. Incentivizing skillset transfers is possible if companies set a higher bar with robust compensation packages.

Indeed, in 2021 the staffing firm Nelson surveyed more than 300 employers in traditional industries and found 47 percent of companies addressed employee wellbeing through virtual coaching and counseling programs, while 35 percent offered subscriptions to mental-health, yoga, and meditation apps. Another 26 percent opted not just for paid time off, but also company-wide required days off. It would behoove cannabis companies to consider incorporating such benefits into their overall offerings to help job-seekers view their organizations as stable places to build a career.

The pandemic forced radical change in where work is accomplished, and many employees and job-seekers are reluctant to give up newfound locational flexibility. According to the Nelson survey, 62 percent of white-collar companies said greater options for remote work were likely to become permanent; 34 percent of industrial companies surveyed said the same. This shift to hybrid and work-from-home structures is most assuredly spilling over into cannabis employment policies.

For roles that require employees to be physically present in the retail, cultivation, and manufacturing categories, employers should consider incentives that outshine the ability to work remotely, such as highly competitive base pay, tenure-based bonuses, or enhanced scheduling flexibility to avoid being perpetually understaffed.

In the general marketplace, employees aren’t the only ones who want to stay home. Consumers increasingly favor ecommerce, and some 37 percent of professional-sector businesses surveyed by Nelson said even after the pandemic they’re unlikely to revert to in-person sales.

With a similar marked increase in online cannabis ordering and more states allowing for cannabis delivery, dispensaries may need to adjust both their operational and staffing models. For example, a company may decide to hire commercial drivers in lieu of extra budtenders, or recruit inventory and fulfillment specialists instead of retail managers. More companies will look to add transit expertise to their organizations, from logistics professionals to delivery personnel.

Along with the rise of remote work and ecommerce, business restructuring is having an outsized impact in the cannabis industry. Data show there were three times as many mergers and acquisitions in 2021 as during the previous year. Consolidation wasn’t the only type of restructuring to define the year for business leaders; securing the supply chain through vertical integration remains top-of-mind for many in the industry.

These trends affect staffing approaches in different ways. The process of two companies becoming one and combining organizational charts usually creates role redundancies, but it can also create opportunities to reposition loyal and trustworthy staff in new jobs. Vertical integration also creates new roles, and opportunities for existing staff, at every level of the enterprise as businesses broaden their scope to take on everything from product delivery to marketing.

In the coming months, compliance professionals, management, and experienced industry workers all will be in high demand as new markets come online and delivery services and consumption lounges launch their operations in existing markets.

When one is immersed in daily operations, it’s easy to let other concerns push staffing assessments to the back burner. But it’s critical to recognize the impact of pay strategies, compensation packages, and incentives in attracting job candidates and maintaining a strong team. Your long-term business success depends on it.  

MelitaHeadshot resized-hi-res-copy Melita Balestieri is the senior vice president of marketing and business operations for staffing firm Higher Growth Search and its parent company, Nelson. She possesses more than twenty years’ experience in marketing leadership roles within the staffing industry. With a well-honed ability to recognize and address customer pain points, she spearheads marketing programs that generate strong brands and build company success.