Over the next five to seven years, cannabis will be the fastest growing category of trade in the U.S. with more employment opportunities than any other industry, including tech. While new brands are continually emerging and state laws are changing to accommodate marijuana usage on a wider level, perhaps one of the most exciting aspects is predicting who will be the big players and who will be responsible for powering them to scale.
In 2007, we set out to build a first-of-its-kind beverage-industry recruiting company that would meaningfully engage job seekers and employers, getting to know their strengths, weaknesses, and future goals. At the time, there weren’t any recruiting firms for the beverage industry approaching hiring the way we did, but our system worked. Our founding division, BevForce, grew into the umbrella ForceBrands as we added divisions for several other consumer packaged goods (CPG) markets.
There are a lot of synergies between CPG companies and the talent they require to succeed. The growth of the new cannabis vertical has revealed several similarities between this space and CPG, especially when it comes to building teams, hiring for certain skills, and attracting talent.
One fundamental thing to consider when identifying talent for budding brands is that cannabis is a consumer product. The cannabis brands of today will be the retail brands of tomorrow. There are a lot of luxury lifestyle brands creating products we’re used to consuming like bars, edibles or snacks, beverages, topicals, and skincare. Because the talent and skills required to drive consumer product brands to scale are highly transferable to cannabis, it makes sense to take a hiring approach similar to that of CPG companies.
When it comes to building a team that will drive business, companies should consider the organizational design charts of businesses in other CPG sectors. The beverage alcohol industry is comparable to cannabis, as they’re both highly regulated industries. Although alcohol is federally legal in the U.S., laws vary at state and local levels. Those who are familiar with working in a tightly regulated industry will understand the complexities and nuances of cooperating with legal restrictions as determined by federal, state, and local laws.
CPG professionals can bring a lot to the cannabis space. Whether they come from entrepreneurial startups or large corporations, their skills will prove valuable to cannabis businesses looking to scale. Since entering the cannabis space four years ago, we at HerbForce have observed several hiring trends. On the candidate side, senior-level executives who possess brand-building experience are eager and interested in applying their skills and talents to cannabis startups. On the employer side, companies are thinking about their board of directors and advisors and looking at candidates who have experience in medical technology, beauty, and beverage.
Transferable CPG skills
Cannabis jobs are in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the legal cannabis industry will create more than a quarter of a million jobs by 2020, and that doesn’t take into account the potential addition of new states legalizing recreational or medical marijuana jobs in the next few months. But how do candidates stand out in an industry that has never hired before, and what skills are most transferable? Although cannabis is a new business space, brands already are building teams based on proven, traditional CPG business models with an intense focus on strengthening main verticals and filling those verticals with experienced, knowledgeable professionals.
We’ve seen a high demand for sales and marketing professionals as companies compete to sell their product legally in as many places and ways as possible. Candidates who have marketing experience at a brand built from scratch will be especially valuable to growing cannabis brands. Brands are relying on unique marketing strategies to set themselves apart and to win over and inform newer consumers. On the sales and distribution side, brands are looking for candidates who have direct store delivery (DSD) experience. Marketing and sales professionals who effectively can assess target consumers and execute sales and marketing strategies around selling product will prove most valuable.
As cannabis companies compete for funding, a knowledgeable and experienced finance leadership team also is critical to a brand’s success. Candidates with experience in financial forecasting and budgeting for shelf-life considerations are especially sought-after. There’s an incredible demand for finance professionals who have worked in regulated industries such as beverage alcohol, tobacco, or pharmaceuticals. Finance professionals who are ready for a challenge will benefit from a burgeoning industry with high rewards.
On the operations and manufacturing side, cannabis brands have had success in hiring candidates who come from beverage, food, and beauty operations facilities who know what it takes to produce plants similar to cannabis—like hops for beer and anything grown hydroponically, such as tomatoes. Operations roles also are critical for building a successful cannabis business as more companies expand their production facilities. Companies are looking for people who have run a large floor with many employees.
Attracting CPG talent
As the cannabis industry continues to gain momentum, employers must compete for talent across CPG. This is especially challenging in an intensely candidate-driven job market where it’s become more difficult to attract and retain top talent. According to ForceBrands’ 2019 Talent Market Report, an extensive in-depth analysis of cross-industry hiring trends, the most effective tools for employee recruitment and retention are benefits and compensation packages. Insights from the report reveal cannabis companies offer more extensive leave policies than established businesses across other industries including wine, spirits, and beer; food and non-alcoholic beverages; and beauty, wellness, and personal care.
It goes without saying that compensation is critical for attracting and retaining top talent in a candidate-driven job market. Fortunately, the “green rush” is real. As the industry grows, so do wages for both hourly and salaried employees. Over the past year, the average salary for cannabis jobs has increased by 16 percent. While wages can vary based on employee qualifications, experience, and company funding, many positions offer comfortable salaries and opportunities for advancement.
With the global legal marijuana market estimated to reach $146.4 billion by 2025, it’s an incredible opportunity for professionals to make an impact at young, high-growth companies. Although a hiring playbook for cannabis does not exist yet, employers are looking to neighboring CPG verticals and taking notes. Generous salaries and benefits coupled with impressive career growth opportunities make cannabis not just the industry to watch, but one to be part of.
Josh Wand is founder and chief executive officer of ForceBrands and PINATA. ForceBrands’ industry-specific divisions BevForce, FoodForce, BeautyForce, and HerbForce work with new and established brands and individuals at all stages of their careers. PINATA is an experiential marketing platform transforming the way brands create and measure activations. HerbForce.com