A Change of Heart: Career Transitions from Fossil Fuels to Hemp

by | Jul 23, 2019

Written by Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer and B2B content marketer living in British Columbia, Canada. Her focus on cannabis tech, scientific breakthroughs, and extraction has led to bylines with Cannabis & Tech Today, Terpenes and Testing, Analytical Cannabis, and Grow Mag among others. She is the owner and lead-writer of Sea to Sky Content, which provides content and strategy to the industry’s biggest brands.

The fossil fuel industry still employs roughly 50 percent of American energy workers, but the times are a-changin', and you don't have to be a psychic to read the tea leaves. The energy sector is increasingly automated, isn't recovering from downturns, and moving towards renewables. Jobs in natural gas, petroleum, and coal are not what they once were and no longer holds the job security nor perks they traditionally did.

After the last oil bust in Alberta, Canada, the country witnessed a sizeable exodus of workers from the oil patch. Long-time employees soon found their careers dried up even when the markets were picking up. Years later,  the jobs didn't return as expected.

According to a September 2018 piece by the Financial Post, in Alberta “There were 94 energy companies in 2006 with a market capitalization of between $50 million and $500 million, according to a recent National Bank Financial report. Today, there are only 27 companies in that category.”

In the U.S. energy sector, the trends are the same. The Houston Chronicle highlighted in 2017 that “many of the more than 215,000 U.S. jobs lost in the two-year oil bust – including about 100,000 in Texas – may never return as the industry recovery gains strength.” There is a very real downsize happening within the oil and gas industry. Where are these workers headed?

Cannabis is the New Industry to Beat

As one industry faces significant challenges, another is booming. Cannabis is now legal (in some form) in the majority of U.S. states. In Canada, it's legal for medical and adult use. In the E.U., several countries are in the process of revising their cannabis legislation. The market predictions for cannabis are astronomical – one wall street executive recently predicted an American market of $75 million by 2030. Leafly estimates that cannabis currently employs 211,000 Americans, with almost 25 percent of those jobs created within 2018 alone.

If the oil and gas industry used to be the go-to job market for the best and brightest, today, the cannabis sector seems like an extremely suitable replacement. There is real hope for employees seeking to transition from one industry to the next. Because the cannabis sector essentially didn't exist a decade ago,  there isn't an established community of well trained, experienced professionals. When cannabis companies look to fill new positions, they often must pull from outside industries. You don't need experience; you need transferable skills.

Just look at Craig Kolochuk, Co-founder, President, and Director at SugarBud Craft Growers Corporation. As the former President of Relentless Resources Ltd. an oil and gas company in Canada, he saw the signs of change early on. Kolochuk managed a dramatic shift for the company in 2018 when Indiva executed a reverse takeover. Relentless became SugarBud, and his company moved out of fracking forever.

As the Financial Post explained, resources are moving out of oil. It's increasingly difficult for companies, like Relentless, to raise capital these days. At Relentless, “SugarBud's Kolochuk said he ran into this exact problem in late 2017 and earlier this year as he attempted to raise money to drill more wells and grow production at Relentless. Neither investors nor bankers were willing to provide capital.”

Kolochuk and his team took the opportunity to transition and rebrand into an exploding and exciting new sector. Cannabis is an industry looking for innovation, ideas, and people with gumption. The oil and gas industry used to hold the promise of prestige, upward mobility, and entrepreneurial spirit – but today, many view it as a dying industry.  Relentless, now SugarBud took the skills learned in oil and gas, and leaped into cannabis.

Kolochuk's story isn't an outlier; it is playing out across the sector. In Canada, the Post details a handful of startup mining companies which have also moved away from fossil fuels and into cannabis. Workers are following suit.

Opportunities from Seed to Sale in Cannabis

While there are probably at least a few former oil workers now trimming bud, or tending a dispensary, cannabis is hiring across all levels. That means high-level executives like Kolochuk to Wall Street bankers. Cannabis needs skilled workers, and the industry is pulling from all available talent pools to meet the demand. 

A few examples of transferable skills suitable for the cannabis sector include technical knowledge needed to build massive indoor cultivation facilities, scientific skill required to run a compliant extraction lab, investment prowess to navigate the murky waters of startup cannabis companies, big data crunchers, to human resources, and on and on…

The chance to make a move between a dying fossil fuel industry and into the booming business of cannabis has never been easier. Few folks have the cannabis-based experience to fill all the openings, and there are even fewer folks with recognized professional certification in the sector. Cannabis companies are seeking out employees in other areas, who have the right mindset, acumen, and entrepreneurial passion for making it in the booming cannabis sector.