The job market is experiencing unprecedented change. Industries like the service and retail sectors have struggled to attract employees during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and employers across the country are competing to retain workers, who are looking for better benefits, better pay and more flexible working arrangements.
In October, the Labor Department reported that job openings in August were at 10.4 million — slightly down off a record high of 10.9 million in July. These unfilled vacancies create a seller’s market for employees. Those just entering the workforce or looking to switch careers have never enjoyed as much leverage as they do today, and employers know it.
Major players like Starbucks and Amazon have upped the ante to attract entry-level employees. Both have increased their starting wages to $15/hour or higher – a rate many considered impractically high just a few short years ago. But wages are just part of the equation. Both behemoths, along with Walmart, Target and others, recently announced new or expanded college tuition programs. Starbucks also launched a partnership with Care.com to provide employees with subsidized emergency child or adult care to sweeten the pot.
Within this environment, one might think the prospect of attracting employees is bleak, unless you have the resources to compete at this level. Still, a look beyond the splashy headlines reveals a stark reality. Perhaps the Starbucks, Amazons and Walmarts of the world are making these outsize investments in employee perks because neither the work itself, nor the category, is attractive on its own.
A category like cannabis, by contrast, isn’t weighed down by the baggage of big retail. In fact, cannabis offers upsides that none of these large retail companies can match.
A Mainstream Market
Even in recent memory, employment in the cannabis industry may have seemed like a risky or fringe proposition. However, with cannabis medically legal in 38 states and legal for adult use in 18 states, it could be considered on par with other mainstream consumer categories. Unlike more established sectors like retail and hospitality, cannabis demonstrated remarkable growth and resilience during the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to it being deemed “essential” or “life sustaining” in the majority of states with an established cannabis program.
According to BDSA’s cannabis market forecast, global cannabis sales for 2021 are expected to reach $30.6 billion, an increase of 41% over 2020 sales. It also expects this number to grow to $62.1 billion in 2026, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 15%. At my company, Jushi Holdings (“Jushi”), we saw a staggering 689.6% increase in total revenue from 2019 to 2020.
With that growth came more jobs in the cannabis industry — 321,000, in fact. In 2020, the U.S. cannabis sector also added an estimated 77,300 new jobs. That’s more than twice the number added throughout 2019, according to Leafly’s 2021 jobs report. I can attest that at Jushi, we nearly tripled our number of employees, from 330 in September 2020 to 1,216 in October 2021.
It’s clear this growth spells opportunity for anyone looking for a job or thinking of making a switch into a burgeoning industry. For job seekers at all levels, there are numerous reasons a career path in cannabis is worth considering.
The Value of New
A job in cannabis is going to be different from working at a more traditional company or firm.
Cannabis is still an emerging industry. Even in the more established states like Colorado or California, the adult-use market is less than a decade old. This relative youth means that many companies are still in the start-up phase, dynamically changing as their business grows and the respective markets expand and mature.
For employees, dynamic growth means dynamic opportunities. Unlike established businesses and industries, cannabis careers are not restricted by traditions and norms. Rather, employees will often have fluid job descriptions, with roles and responsibilities changing based on what the organization needs at any given moment in time. With that in mind, employees are expected to pitch in when work needs to get done, whether it’s a task they’ve handled before or one that they’re encountering for the first time. The demand for hard work, attention to detail, and teamwork are a must to meet expectations and timelines.
Industry maturation doesn’t necessarily mean the rate of change slows down. On the contrary, the process of cannabis commercialization often equates to an accelerating rate of change. Regulations are in constant flux as state and local governments adapt and evolve their position within the industry. Product popularity and availability change as more consumers enter the market and discover what fits into their lives and lifestyles. So to anticipate these dynamics and stay ahead of the category, brands, marketing campaigns and tactics also evolve, as companies gather market and consumer insights, build relationships with customers and partners and engage the marketplace in new and interesting ways. Within this constant state of change, employees must be agile and ready to pivot their roles and responsibilities.
Winning organizations will build a foundation of teamwork and shared trust to embrace and thrive in this model of perpetual change. Applying an integrated team framework means that titles, functional boundaries, roles and responsibilities are often fluid. The team works as one, inventing, creating and moving toward shifting goals — all while working without an established playbook. Creativity and flexibility are needed from every employee, from the C-suite to frontline workers.
My personal experience reflects this dynamic. I joined Jushi as the organization’s second in-house legal counsel at a time when there were only 15 employees. Even though my official title was legal counsel, I threw my hat in the ring whenever necessary — fundraising, business development, writing applications and even managing social media.
The willingness to wear multiple hats and engage in various job functions creates opportunities to grow and learn new skills that might fall well outside your job description (if there is one) or area of expertise. Those acquired skills and experiences make anyone a more valuable employee and make the team stronger, more flexible and more resilient.
Jobs Well Done
The lean nature of a start-up fosters an environment where employees don’t feel like a cog in a wheel. Whereas more established companies in traditional industries thrive on structure and hierarchy, cannabis companies are much flatter organizations. This means every employee in the organization has the ability to be highly visible to the rest of the team, allowing the impact of their work to be more readily apparent to management.
For organizations in start-up mode, every job matters. Almost daily, the team creates some aspect of the business that wasn’t there before. This dynamic iteration creates an incredibly fast feedback loop. It’s where the term “Fail Fast, Learn Faster” originates. Often, the impact of your work is felt immediately. And while that prospect might seem intimidating to someone new to any organization, the fact is gaining clear and immediate insight into the effectiveness of your contributions can provide immense job satisfaction and expedited career growth.
Advance at Speed
The lack of entrenched hierarchy also means there is no traditional career ladder to climb. In my case, taking a job in a new industry has allowed me to leapfrog my peers who went to work for more traditional law firms. With five years of experience, I am considered an expert in the field, whereas in other industries or environments, I would still be in the earlier stage of my career, reporting to a higher-up with decades of experience and established ways of working.
Still, speed is only half the equation. The fluidity of jobs, as well as the relative size of companies, allow employees to “try on” roles and glean a good understanding of an entire organization. In this sense, employees have more control over their ultimate destiny and career path than in other industries, where the opportunities to sample various roles simply don’t exist.
High-performing organizations recognize the advantages of retaining top performers, and they’re willing to move people around to discover or uncover hidden talents and utilize skill sets as needed. In my organization, we’ve seen office managers move into marketing positions, cultivators move into sales roles, alongside significant internal promotions. In my case, following our initial public offering, I recognized the opportunity to join and help build out a robust investor relations team.
Part of my legal work involved our public listing and handling investor-related questions, so the transition to investor relations was a natural and organic evolution. My legal skills carried over to the new job, and I was given the opportunity to dig deeper into corporate finance — an area of personal and professional interest. It isn’t often that you find someone with a law degree working in investor relations, but my promotion to the department shows that the industry — and my company — care more about execution than keeping employees “in their lane.”
The Entrepreneur’s Mindset
Cannabis is a business in which individuals with an entrepreneurial mindset can thrive. The dynamic nature of the industry and the growth trajectory of many cannabis businesses breed opportunities for those who wish to participate. The key is to get in the door.
Pursue opportunities, even though they might not fit squarely with your ultimate interest or desired career path, understanding that over time you’ll likely have the chance to explore and pursue various interests. In the meantime, you can learn and sharpen new skills and make yourself an indispensable member of a growing, thriving team.