The Green Rush for Talent

by | Aug 20, 2018

Written by Scott Whipkey

Photo courtesy of Total Landscape Care

The Green Rush for Talent is on

Companies can expect significant challenges in the pursuit of top-caliber talent with experience in the cannabis industry:

  • The unemployment rate is approaching an all-time low, and in June 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor reported more job openings than unemployed workers.
  • The legal cannabis industry is still relatively new, so there is a limited supply of experienced candidates in a high-demand market.  
  • Many top-performers are reluctant to enter the business, due to the past stigma of cannabis, or for personal/family reasons. 
  • As more states legalize cannabis, the demand for experienced talent will surge.

Our research found that while many companies are having success in cultivation, extraction, distribution and sales, few have developed talent acquisition strategies for future growth. The great Jim Collins insisted that to go from Good to Great*, the top priority must be getting the right people on the bus:

“You are a bus driver. The bus, your company, is at a standstill, and it’s your job to get it going. You have to decide where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and who’s going with you.

Most people assume that great bus drivers (read: business leaders) immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where they’re going—by setting a new direction or by articulating a fresh corporate vision.

In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.”

-Jim Collins, Good to Great, Why Some Companies Make the Leap, and Others Don’t

What skills will be in demand?

We researched thousands of current online job postings and spoke with executives in the cannabis sector about their current and future needs. Here the top positions that are/will be in short supply.  

  1. Master Cultivator/Grow Master: $120-165k/year
  2. Master Extractor with PHD in Chemistry: $175-220k 
  3. Dispensary Manager: $80-120k
  4. Pharmacist: $100-180k
  5. Supply Chain Specialist: $80-120k
  6. Extraction Specialist $75-135k
  7. Regulatory and Compliance Specialist: $80-170k

Where will these people come from?  

Most of the hiring managers we spoke with told us that if they can’t find someone with cannabis industry experience, they would likely target the food and beverage, and pharmaceutical industries. This portends a trickle-down effect of creating another talent war in these industries in the coming years. All are highly regulated industries, with people experienced in dealing with different state and federal regulations, quality guidelines, tax issues, distribution and supply chain issues, and so on. 

How will companies find the people?

The short answer is: Any way they can. The Green Rush for Talent is like the wild west gold rush. Many will hire family, friends and former co-workers. Some will hire contractors for hourly jobs that don’t require advanced education or specific skills. Still other companies will hire an HR manager or a recruiter to post their jobs on the internet. They’ll all be fishing in the same pond (job ‘seekers’), only getting bites from underwhelming candidates who want to get into the business but have no relevant skills or experience. The great companies know that the real A-players, the ones who will deliver a competitive advantage, are not looking for another job. In fact, they are likely working for the competition. For key roles, and for executive-level positions, companies will often retain an executive search firm who knows how to target these top-tier professionals.

And the winner is:

In our unscientific survey, we asked fifty executives and business owners, “What is your most valuable asset?” Over ninety percent gave us the same two-word answer: “My people.” We then asked what we thought was a natural follow-up question: “Okay then, tell us what you are doing to make sure you acquire and secure your most valuable asset?” The question was generally met with blank stares, shoulder shrugs, and nervous laughter. We enjoy helping companies and executives turn those blank stares into bold strategies, and hopefully this article is a good start.  

The Green Rush for Talent is on, and the teams with the best players will probably win.

Scott Whipkey is CEO of Ascend Executive Search. For more information please email