Skill, training gaps are obstacles for NYS cannabis workforce

Lack of training and skills, as well as insufficient awareness of career opportunities, are two of the largest obstacles to achieving social equity in the adult-use market, according to a national survey developed and distributed by the ILR School’s New York State Cannabis Workforce Initiative.

By 2027, the legalization of marijuana is expected to create thousands of jobs in New York state – an opportunity to maximize economic social justice benefits for those most harmed by the criminalization of cannabis, according to the initiative, which is led by ILR’s Labor and Employment Law Program and the Workforce Development Institute.

Cornell impacting New York State

As a first step, the initiative is tailoring outreach and education for employers, organizations and individuals, both those with criminal records and others harmed by the criminalization of cannabis, who are interested in participating in New York state’s cannabis industry.

The Cannabis Workforce Initiative developed and distributed a national survey to determine cannabis industry stakeholder needs. Responses from approximately 100 employers representing a wide range of industry sectors, with the most respondents coming from dispensaries, wholesale/distribution, education/training and cultivation, provided a picture of how the industry is developing:

  • More than 60% of respondents indicated that they are currently or plan to do business in New York’s cannabis industry.
  • Dispensary-related jobs are the most in-demand by businesses. Harvester/cultivator and inventory professionals were the second and third most common job titles cited.
  • Customer service is the most in-demand skill.
  • Cannabis employers see lack of training and skills, as well as lack of awareness of career opportunities, as two of the largest obstacles to achieving social equity in the adult-use market.
  • More than eight out of 10 respondents expressed interest in learning more about their labor and employment law obligations to provide a just, fair and discrimination-free work environment ranging from best practices in hiring people impacted by mass incarceration, to wage and hour requirements, labor relations and human resource practices to retain the best employees.

The survey results are helping lay the groundwork for the group’s next steps, said Esta Bigler, director of ILR’s Labor and Employment Law Program.

“Our work is very exciting,” Bigler said. “We are participating in the building of a new major industry in New York state, one that has the potential to be a game changer for New York’s citizens and communities who have suffered due to the criminalization of cannabis and other workers who often work in substandard conditions for little pay.

“We will be educating employees about their right to  healthy and family sustaining jobs and employers about their obligations under the wage and hour laws, the National Labor Relations Act and equal employment laws that protect workers from discrimination,” she said. “In addition, our goal is to provide the new social equity licensees with the human resources knowledge they need to run a successful business and meet all their legal obligations as employers.”

“We’re encouraged by these initial survey results,” said Amy Desjardins, the Workforce Development Institute’s executive director. “It is clear that, while there is general support for New York’s social equity goals among employers, there is also a role for CWI to fill as the bridge between social equity job seekers and the industry’s high-road employers.

“Our aim is to help New York state make good on its promise of restorative justice in the adult-use cannabis industry. Along with our ongoing research and outreach, this survey is a key tool to make sure we’re hearing from the industry directly,” she said.

According to a report from the New School, more than 50,000 jobs will be created by 2027 as a result of adult-use legalization in New York. Jobs will range from bud tenders and construction workers to chemists, botanists and engineers.

The Cannabis Workforce Initiative, funded by a $250,000 state grant to support the social equity goals of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, is working with community leaders, reentry groups, representatives from the adult-use cannabis industry, unions, educators, policymakers and advocacy groups to assemble an advisory committee to inform its work.

Its programs will include working with ILR’s Criminal Justice and Employment Initiative to provide criminal record education for justice-impacted individuals and employers expanding their talent pool to include workers with criminal records. In this podcast episode, Timothy McNutt, director of the Criminal Justice and Employment Initiative, describes employment opportunities being created by the state’s burgeoning cannabis industry.

Mary Catt is the ILR School’s director of communications.