By Rick Bell
Nov. 24, 2020
While many industries have suffered through massive cutbacks in 2020 and were forced to make large-scale layoffs, at least one sector has weathered the economic downturn as hiring trends have blossomed.
According to Marijuana Business Daily’s Annual Marijuana Business Factbook, U.S. medical and adult-use cannabis sales has climbed by nearly 40 percent this year to about $15 billion as industry employment in 2020 will jump by 50 percent over 2019 to almost 300,000 full-time jobs.
To lend perspective to that figure, a story in Forbes points out that the number of cannabis industry jobs is on par with the beverage industry and computer programming. And to add a bit more perspective, cannabis is a highly regulated industry requiring strict compliance measures. Just 11 states have fully legal adult-use markets with four more states adopting laws following the November election.
Evaluating safety and hiring
Despite the industry’s growth, cannabis operators had to take a breath to evaluate their operations as the pandemic swept across the economy. Jushi Holdings Inc. remained operational at the pandemic’s onset, said Executive Vice President of Human Resources Nichole Upshaw, but company leaders assessed what actions needed to be taken.
Being a vertical operation with 450 employees (335 are hourly) in retail, cultivation, processing and manufacturing, there were certain logistical issues they had to address.
As an essential employer, Jushi immediately focused on the safety of their employees, patients and customers.
“We worked together as a team to source cleaning supplies and PPE for all locations and employees,” said Upshaw. Currently Jushi has operations in seven states as well as offices in Denver and Boca Raton, Florida. “We were early to provide N95 masks for our employees and start taking employee temperatures upon arrival to work.”
Prompt communication became key
Communication was immediate and urgent for this frontline employer. They established daily calls and senior management received regular updates to influence important decisions, Upshaw said.
Retail, corporate, and cultivation/manufacturing teams each had their own calls, she added. They also spoke with industry peers and constantly tracked health and employment law guidelines. Jushi also launched “Blazing the Trail,” a quarterly all-hands call where senior executives updated employees on company performance and initiatives.
Upshaw emphasized the importance of both executive and companywide calls. “Members of the legal and HR team each attended weekly industry calls to discuss how we were all addressing the safety of our businesses,” she said. “We attended webinars and read countless published articles to ensure we had the most up-to-date information and response measures in place. We reviewed the CDC website daily and communicated out each update that impacted our locations.”
Communication also was key to balancing employee safety and customer needs, she said.
“The best thing you can do in the case of differing perspectives is communicate,” Upshaw said. “Changes that supported the safety of our employees created an environment of understanding. Reminding our employees of the responsibility we have to keep cannabis accessible to our patients and customers during these turbulent times also created an environment of understanding. These are the times when being a great listener is the best service you can provide to customers and your employees.”
Seeking talent from outside the industry
Jushi temporarily tapped the brakes on hiring at the outset of the pandemic, but it’s clear that has changed. A glance at Jushi’s careers site lists dozens of positions, from dispensary store manager and shift supervisor to HR generalist.
Upshaw said that Jushi enlists cannabis executive search and staffing company FlowerHire to assist its hiring. With its burgeoning employment numbers, the cannabis industry presents an opportunity for those who were laid off or looking for a career change to redeploy their skills. Cannabis could greatly benefit from leading professionals outside of the market, according to a release from FlowerHire.
“While we did have about a month when recruiting halted, that period of time didn’t last long,” Upshaw said. “FlowerHire was ready to jump in like a member of the Jushi and (retail locations) BEYOND/HELLO team and be our talent scouts while we focused on keeping our employees safe.”
Initially there was a lot of instruction to remind employees how important it was to follow safety protocols, she said.
“After months of adjusting to the pandemic, I believe that human behaviors have been forever changed,” she said. “People will continue to join the organization ready to work and adhere to safety standards because they have been doing so since March of 2020.”
Upgrading the onboarding experience
With the influx of new employees lacking a background in the cannabis industry, HR is responsible for onboarding employees with knowledge of what to expect before and after their first day, Upshaw said.
“My desire is to build out a mature pre-boarding, onboarding and training experience that equips every employee for their role at Jushi and BEYOND/HELLO,” she said. “Although we have all adjusted to the new work order, there are many initiatives and projects that have taken a back seat to the main priority of keeping employees safe.”
Jushi has implemented pulse surveys to gather feedback on various topics, she said. During a time when health care is on everyone’s mind, Jushi also increased the level of company contributions to benefit plans.
Adhering to compliance measures
Following governmental guidelines is nothing new to cannabis companies, Upshaw said. At the federal level, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, while states and local agencies have layers of regulations and policies.
“We are accustomed to operating in highly regulated environments and we have a culture of doing what we can to elevate the reputation of our industry,” Upshaw said. “This opportunity has brought us together and allowed us to continue to reach our unified mission. I am proud of the way we have worked together, have had a bias for action, and have complied with all local, state and federal guidelines.”
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