It was 2017 and Nevada had just made recreational cannabis legal. As a recruiter for the agricultural industry, I remember thinking to myself: Where are they going to find employees in an industry that does not exist?
This is a tough industry to work in, especially when it’s new and the goalposts keep changing. However, once you gain a fundamental understanding of the industry, you can learn to adapt and build a foundation that can get you through any changes or difficulties that may arise. When it comes to staffing, here are a few things I learned along the way.
1. Experience does not always equal the best: Most growers want the “best” trimmers, so they often hire the most experienced candidates and pay high salaries. Even though experienced workers don’t necessarily exist yet on a large scale, there are people who are knowledgeable about horticulture trimming and packaging consumer products. It is counterintuitive, but I have found the most experienced cannabis workers are not necessarily “the best.” I have seen very high turnover because the pay scale is not what the experienced workers were expecting. When hiring inexperienced people, expectations are minimal, and they often view the opportunity as a fresh start at a new career.
2. Look for talent in unexpected places: Finding good, affordable talent in a new industry is a lot harder than anyone realizes, especially in an industry where experience, on a large scale, doesn’t exist. This can affect productivity and hurt a business, especially in the beginning. Look at untapped resources. During economic downturns, women and minority communities are most often impacted the hardest and can provide a great place to find new talent. At Trim Force, I am proud to say women currently make up 52% of our workforce.
3. Similarly, older workers can be valuable to the team: Seasoned workers are usually more mature and reliable and understand the need for a good, steady job. Many are more serious about learning new skills and taking advantage of a career opportunity with a prosperous earning potential.
4. Get creative: Finding talent can mean doing things differently to stand out. Due to the pandemic, many job seekers may be looking to change careers but don’t know where to begin. Stage a hiring event to provide a place where potential candidates can ask questions and meet others who are already in the field without any pressure. My staffing agency held a drive-thru hiring event during the pandemic where candidates stayed in their cars, but were still able to ask questions one-on-one and fill out applications for job openings. It was a huge success and appreciated by the hundreds who were given a chance to speak to an actual person about available positions.
5. Choose phrases carefully when advertising: When advertising job openings, be mindful of the language used in your listings. Are you gearing toward too narrow of a segment of job seekers? Avoid limiting phrases like “minimum years of experience.” Use phrases like “strong attention to detail” and “must have solid work ethic,” which can apply to any demographic and may very well yield candidates who possess these essential, sought-after qualities. Don’t make assumptions about who is overqualified or above the expected salary range. As mentioned, an older worker seeking a second career could be a good candidate who is willing to be flexible for a chance.
6. Consider a staffing agency: Temporary staff may be a necessity for a seasonal agricultural business and finding temp workers can be a very difficult task. Recruiting is hard and time-consuming work, so finding quality temporary help for every harvest is a task that needs constant attention, which may not be the best use of a grower’s time. Staffing agencies who have experience working in the industry can be a great resource and can ease the burden. Not only can they find and oversee temporary staff, they can also keep growers in compliance with state laws and handle HR issues, payroll, work cards, certifications, insurance, workers comp and other necessary employee filings.
And don’t forget, current employees could be your best recruiting tool as a positive work environment can only enhance your company’s reputation and help to attract valuable new employees. Providing a great working environment where each team member feels appreciated and has a chance to grow should be the goal. Of course, offering a competitive salary and benefits packages can help with employee retention, but there are other intangible benefits that can make a big difference.
For instance, providing positive feedback for routine jobs consistently done well, encouraging staffers to be innovative and experiment with new ideas (where appropriate), making new hires feel welcome through a comprehensive onboarding program or talking to employees about what their next role could be or the career paths available to them are all important for boosting morale and helping to create a strong and vibrant work culture that incentivizes employees to stay. This is important. especially if there are other competing job opportunities available.
In a relatively new industry, the average pool of experienced workers applying for jobs tends to be significantly smaller. Be prepared to take a chance on someone who is looking for a start in the industry or is switching careers.
Holly Cowden is the founder and managing partner of Trim Force Staffing Solutions, the first staffing agency in Las Vegas to specialize in the cannabis industry. With more than 30 years of staffing experience, she became a pioneer in the local cannabis industry when she recognized the immediate need for hiring assistance and staffing solutions among growers within the field.