Local colleges prepare individuals for careers in cannabis industry

Feb. 12, 2020 | Debbie Gardner

GREATER SPRINGFIELD – As the  cannabis industry continues to expand following the legalization of recreational use in 11 states – including Massachusetts – the need for qualified workers for all aspects of this emerging market grows.

Two local colleges – one community, one four-year – have stepped in to prepare individuals for careers in cannabis. Here is what each school has to offer those interested in jobs in this new industry.

HCC prepares workforce for cannabis industry jobs

Holyoke Community College (HCC)  is once again on the forefront of workforce education with the recent launch of a new Cannabis Education Center, located in the Kittridge Center of the Homestead Avenue Campus.

Much like the MCCTI Gaming School – a collaboration between the college and Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) that grew out of the need to educate a workforce for the new MGM Casino in downtown Springfield – HCC Vice President of Business and Community Services Jeffrey Hayden said the Cannabis Education Center is seen as answering a growing workforce education need.

“We have a very strong emphasis on occupational and vocational training to help people get a job,” Hayden said of HCC’s mission. “We look at cannabis as an opportunity for new jobs coming to the region.”

The Center, which officially opened in October 2019 with several business-related seminars designed for members of the cannabis industry, is a collaboration between HCC and C3RN – the Cannabis Community Care and Research Network.  According to its website, C3RN is a public benefit corporation (B Corp) based out of Worcester that provides contract research, analytics, education, and strategic advising services for the cannabis, academic and healthcare industry in the area of cannabis.

Hayden said for its first round of workforce training in 2020 the Cannabis Education Center would be offering four certificate programs for specific jobs in the cannabis industry: Cannabis Culinary Assistant, Cannabis Retail/Patient Advocate, Cannabis Cultivation Assistant and Cannabis Extraction Technician Assistant. According to  information provided by the college, each certificate program will consist of 96 hours of instruction, half of which will take place on the HCC campus, with the other half conducted through C3RN’s internship program with participating dispensaries, cultivators, manufacturers and ancillary businesses.

The first of these certificate courses,  Cannabis Culinary Assistant, launched in late January at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute on Race Street.

“As you know, as a college there can be no cannabis on campus, so we will do [this training] through teaching about the use [in culinary settings] and doing whatever type of simulations we can, then our partner, the Cannabis Care Research Network, will offer internships and partnerships to the industry so [students] can get actual field experience.”

He added that the culinary certificate would also include “stackable” training that would apply across all culinary-based jobs, such as Serve-Safe® certification, CPR and “whatever credentials we can provide,” he said.

The second certificate program for positions as a Cannabis Retail/patient Advocate is slated to begin on March 2 in the Kittridge Center building on the main HCC campus.

“This is primarily a customer service position,” Hayden said, adding that the college is “actually using a guest service gold certificate [curriculum] we developed from the National Hotel and Lodging Association” as the structure for this course.

Hayden said the third and fourth  certificated programs are expected to be up and running shortly after the customer service certificate begins.

 “The Cannabis Cultivation Assistant is an assistant grower position,” Hayden said of the potential job placement for those certificate holders.  The fourth certificate tract, that of Cannabis Extraction Technician Assistant will educate students in “dealing with all the different side products that are created.”

“There are a number of different products prepared [from cannabis] and they have a whole different area [these techs] would be working on,” he explained. As with the Culinary Assistant program, the on-campus work for these certificate programs would be done with simulation, with any actual cannabis handling done during internships through C3RN.

Hayden explained it was the growing presence of cannabis-based business in Western Mass. that made the addition of this kind of vocational training an important step for HCC.

“What got me convinced about it was when I started to do a little research about the industry in the area – already there were 13 companies that made applications for the 21 licenses [in Holyoke] and two had been approved and there are two others that have been provisional licenses,” Hayden said. Among those cannabis-based Holyoke businesses are GTI, which Hayden said already has between 50 and 75 employees at present and is projecting a final workforce of 100, TrueLeaf, which is planning to locate on Canal Street and is projecting a need of “about 200 to 300 employees” in the near future, and Canna Provisions, which projects a need of about 50 employees.

“Just with those few opportunities … you are talking 400 to 500 jobs [in one city], ” Hayden said. “We are confident that this workforce will come from people who are excited about this industry and we are providing the education that these people need.

“Hopefully we will continue to evolve and meet the needs of job seekers looking for work in the [cannabis] industry and continue to develop services” that will be useful to that industry, Hayden said. “We really hope [HCC]  can be part of the support network that grows economic development and workforce development by supporting this new-to-Massachusetts industry.”

AIC to offer certificate, minor, masters degrees for cannabis  industry

American International College (AIC) looked at the growing legal cannabis business model – both in Massachusetts and throughout the country – and recognized a need for individuals ready to step into many key roles in this emerging industry.

In response to this need,  it’s become the first local four-year college to offer a cannabis education track, initially with a certificate program and soon, with both undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

“It’s not the first program in the country, there are a couple of programs in the Midwest, mostly science-based [or] plant-based, and there is a masters in pharmacology degree – certainly this is a very new-to-market field – but we are the first that is blending science and business in both the undergraduate and the graduate field,” Mika Nash, EdDD, executive vice president for Academic Affairs at AIC told Reminder Publishing. “I think our focus is very much on the business side – thinking about finance, policy, the supply chain, that kind of thing, and the science aspect will be taught in the master’s degree [program].”

Nash said the inaugural class in AIC’s  cannabis education offerings  – Cannabis Entrepreneurship – which is part of a three-course Micro-Emerging Markets – Cannabis Education Certificate  Program – launched this spring semester at full capacity. She noted that class and the other two certificate requirements  – Cannabis Business Operations and Law and Ethics of Cannabis – are open to both AIC students and interested individuals from the community. The college expects to offer the entrepreneurship class again next fall.

“It won’t be just consecutive, we will be rotating those [classes] through the schedule,” Nash said.

The college plans to follow up on this initial cannabis education offering by rolling out a Master’s degree program focusing on this emerging market next fall, Nash said.

“It’s 30 credits in cannabis science and commerce,” she said. “It can be finished in less than two years.”

Nash said this graduate-level course is “built as a hybrid, with both face-to-face [learning] and some online components.”

Nash said the college plans to expand its cannabis-aligned education offerings even further in the near future. “Our intent is to continue and grow in this area with a [cannabis-focused] minor,” Nash said. “We’re looking at plant cultivation, or the chemistry involved in cannabis. On the business side also, is the ancillary businesses – not actually cannabis based, but businesses that support it  –  hydroponics around growing, packaging, and finance – all these are areas where people can get in and be a part of this industry that doesn’t require them to grow or sell cannabis.”

She said the college’s goal in tapping into this emerging market is to “educate people in a holistic way  that allows [them] to graduate and get jobs. Last year there were 64,000 jobs created [in the cannabis industry] before years-end, and in certain states like California and Florida they are adding jobs at a rate of tens of thousands a year.”

With a median salary for someone starting in the cannabis field of  “about $60,000 a year  – 11 percent higher than the median income [in fields] across the board, that is very exciting for us to think about for our students,” Nash said.

Information about the cannabis certificate program – including tuition and costs – is available on the college’s website at www.aic.edu/school-of-business-arts-and-sciences/micro-emerging-markets/

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