Hiring Trends Turn Back Toward Strategic Roles, Even During an Ongoing Economic Crisis
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Hiring Trends Turn Back Toward Strategic Roles, Even During an Ongoing Economic Crisis

The more time passes, the more experience that C-suite managers and salaried professionals are picking up in cannabis and crossover industries.

June 10, 2020

David Belsky is busier than ever. As the CEO and founder of Flowerhire, a recruitment and staffing agency in the cannabis space, he says that the spring of 2020 has been a windfall for companies seeking talent—following a sudden mid-March dip in hiring across the board, of course.

“I think more and more people are thinking about the industry than ever before,” he says.

While the cannabis industry hasn’t been immune to the great economic crisis unfolding this year, the fact that many states deemed cannabis businesses “essential” left a tremendous impact. Cannabis retail, still a federally illegal commercial endeavor, picked up a sense of legitimacy that has helped dispensaries and the rest of the supply chain evolve to meet consumer demand. With that comes the need for workers, too.

When Cresco Labs opened its new Sunnyside storefront on the north side of Chicago, for instance, the company needed several hundred new employees to get things moving. Social distancing plans have pushed cultivation companies to hire more workers—to accommodate new spaced-out shifts.

Flowerhire helps connect prospective hires with marquee cannabis brands across an increasing number of U.S. markets, from the C-suite to the salaried professional. Belsky says his team helped Glass House Group hire its CFO and COO to help shepherd an IPO plan.

Where the company meets its recruits is somewhere in the middle of a clear mission statement. What does the company want to achieve with each hire?

“When you’re talking about recruiting strategic people for cannabis, it’s part art and part science,” Belsky says. “The science is the same as it is in other industries: Has this person had the job experiences that are required for this job? The art is just realizing that cannabis isn’t for everybody. Part of our job is to educate people who are potentially interested in pursuing cannabis as a career on the industry itself and what it’s like working in it.”

Before the coronavirus pandemic brought economic pressure onto the cannabis industry, Belsky says that capital markets were already drying. Cash flow was an existing problem. But for cannabis companies that were poised to continue a trajectory of organic growth in newer markets around the U.S., the nascent supply-and-demand curves (and that “essential” tag in many states) helped keep businesses afloat and eager to hire.

As the economic impact sunk in, strategic hires for managers and C-suite employees slowed down. But now, as companies get a handle on how to move forward in a time of uncertainty, Belsky says those pivots are allowing employers to re-examine their strategic needs.

“What it’s morphed into are companies that are looking for folks who know how to scale, who have operated without a net before, who are entrepreneurial, who have worked with startups,” he says. “Learning cannabis is a lot. But if you’re also learning how to function in a startup at the same time, it’s too much.”

Belsky says it wasn’t too long ago that you simply couldn’t hire a CFO with capital markets experience and cannabis experience. Same with management-level employees with a background in both food manufacturing and cannabis. There hadn’t been enough time for those interested parties to acquire the blended skill sets need to thrive in this rapidly evolving business.

He points to last summer as an inflection point, where he and the Flowerhire team began to see a marked increase in interest among prospective cannabis employees—and a desire among existing cannabis employees to stay in the industry. Once both of those trends locked into place, the momentum really picked up.

The stigma of working in the industry has largely disappeared, too. Belsky says that he’d spent time in the early days coaching people about how to approach the Thanksgiving dinner table conversation, helping prospective hires explain their career moves into the cannabis business. “And people hadn’t really thought about that,” he says.

Now, though, the process of normalization has risen to the surface in a breadth of U.S. markets: Massachusetts, Michigan and Illinois have become flag-bearers in the Midwest and on the East Coast, bellwethers for how cannabis might be stitched into the broader fabric of American business.

With the economic fallout continuing to frame many policy discussions, Belsky says he anticipates an acceleration of cannabis business licensing in states that have already legalized the industry. He looks to counties in California that are overturning moratoriums as an example of a renewed embrace of cannabis in the grand scheme of a local or state tax budget.

And yet: It takes time. A jurisdiction that opts into the cannabis industry today won’t have a thriving marketplace tomorrow. This is a complex situation, and local approval is only an early step toward the sort of economic invigoration that stakeholders are talking about.