Changing Habits: How Cannabis Job Recruiters Are Operating during COVID-19

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Conducting interviews face to face and concluding a conversation with a handshake once were staples of the hiring process. Now, through the lens of COVID-19, these seemingly innocent gestures feel like unnecessary risks—relics from a way of life we quickly had to abandon.

The cannabis industry—considered an “essential service” in many states—has become a popular destination for those seeking work during the pandemic, and with massive unemployment numbers, the workforce has more qualified candidates available than ever. Normal hiring processes, however, have been completely upended, leaving job seekers and employers scrambling to find solutions.

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For this week’s “Changing Habits” installment, we spoke with executives at Vangst, Würk, and ForceBrands, to learn how cannabis staffing agencies are handling the situation.

According to Vangst founder and Chief Executive Officer Karson Humiston, a dramatic reduction in travel is changing the way the events-based cannabis industry is functioning.

“Without the benefit of in-person conferences and events, we’ve leaned heavily into creating digital community spaces, including our Live Summit Series,” Humiston said. “We’ve hosted seven digital panel events so far via Zoom, inviting industry leaders from all parts of the cannabis community as panelists. We’ve hosted hundreds of attendees so far.”

Many hiring managers interview a lot of candidates, sometimes within a single day. In today’s world, that simply seems like a huge risk that is not worth taking, and in some instances may not even be legal. 

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Karson Humiston, CEO, Vangst

“We’ve put a lot of time into creating dedicated resources for our clients on remote hiring, interviewing, and onboarding best practices because we know a 100 percent remote working structure is brand new to the majority of clients we serve and companies with whom we work,” Humiston said. “One of the most significant process changes Vangst made in response to the onset of COVID-19 was to accelerate the launch of our digital talent matching features available as part of our refreshed Vangst.com website and to launch these new self-service features for free.”

Of course, the situation created by the coronavirus is also impacting job candidates as well. Cannabis has been an appealing destination for many seeking new challenges or career changes. Now, with many other industries shedding jobs and cannabis being deemed “essential” in many instances, the allure of the industry may be greater than ever.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in candidate interest, including a lot of interest volume coming from other sectors who were dealt a big blow by not being deemed essential in many states, including hospitality, retail, and restaurant/food service,” Humiston said. “And within the first few months of our talent matching features being live, we’ve seen thousands of people visit our site to create a candidate profile and search available jobs.”

Keegan Peterson, chief executive officer for Würk, has been putting a lot of effort into keeping the spirits of his team high. His employees are working remotely at the moment and he feels consistent communication can help maintain a sense of normalcy.

“We want to emphasize the importance of staying in touch for positive morale and to build our sense of community,” Peterson said. “We carry out weekly all-hands calls, have Zoom activities like happy hour, and are rolling out a one-on-one interdepartmental lunch for people to get to know each other or re-engage with one another.”

Peterson recommends that companies, more than ever, have a solid online presence. Being transparent about company culture and vision is useful for new candidates who may be seeking employment in cannabis. 

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Keegan Peterson, CEO, Wurk

There may be no easy time to find a quality job, but current circumstances mean candidates must network and hustle even more than normal to identify potential openings. “Candidates should tap into the cannabis network via phone calls, email, LinkedIn, and virtual roundtables since face-to-face interaction and in-person events are limited,” Peterson said.

Peterson identified some areas where he has seen new opportunities for those trying to join the industry or for members seeking advancement. As dispensaries operate but try and practice social distancing, he has seen a rise in the need for delivery drivers and a need for employees to coordinate curbside pickup. He has also seen opportunities for those already working in cannabis.

“A number of companies experienced a reorganization, where lower-level employees had to step into managerial roles quickly,” Peterson said. “In these situations, we’ve seen a rise in demand for virtual onboarding procedures that allow for both social distancing and ease in the training of many people at once.”

Devin Penhall, director of client strategy at ForceBrands, also has noticed new opportunities for both candidates and hiring managers in the cannabis industry.

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Devin Penhall, Director of Client Strategy, ForceBrands

“Since COVID-19’s outbreak, there’s been a surge in available talent given the current unemployment rate,” said Penhall. “People who might not have considered entering the cannabis industry before COVID-19 might now be considering it. There are also a lot of opportunities in cannabis right now, especially since it’s been deemed essential.”

Like Peterson, Penhall has noticed an increase in demand for alternative dispensing methods. “Because COVID-19 has changed the buying habits of consumers, people are visiting dispensaries less frequently and online purchases have grown by a significant margin,” Penhall said. “These changes have resulted in the need for more delivery drivers, fulfillment professionals, and e-commerce employees.”

Without the ability to walk into a dispensary or cannabis business and inquire about open positions, job candidates and hiring managers have had to rely more heavily upon recruiters.

“Now more than ever, we are focused on helping our community find jobs and continue their careers in a rapidly growing industry,” Penhall said.