The cannabis industry is emerging, and a quarter of U.S. states still have yet to move forward with any kind of cannabis laws. But assuming they will, means there is going to be plenty of room for career opportunities and growth in any role that one may have in the industry.
On this episode of Careers in Cannabis recorded on 03/23/2021, Ashley Manning talked to Sun Lee, a recruitment manager for GreenForce Staffing, Oregon’s largest employer in the recreational market and premier cannabis labor solutions company. Ashley and Sun talk about why you should consider a career change into the cannabis industry, and some open opportunities available.
Ashley: Everyone for TRICHOMES.com, I’m Ashley Manning and this is Careers in Cannabis. On the show, we sit down with staffing agencies, cannabis companies and other industry professionals to discuss employment opportunities in the burgeoning cannabis industry. The cannabis industry is emerging and with a quarter of the states still left to move forward with any kind of cannabis laws but assuming they will means there is going to be plenty of room for career opportunities and growth in any role that you have in the industry and today we’re here to talk about why you should consider a career change into the cannabis industry and some open opportunities available too. On this episode we talk to Sun Lee, a recruitment manager for GreenForce Staffing, Oregon’s largest employer in the recreational market and premier cannabis labor solutions company. Hey Sun, welcome to the show.
Sun: Hi Ashley. It’s nice to see you and thank you for having me on today.
Ashley: It’s great to have you here, even with a fibula fracture. I hope that’s all going well for you.
Sun: It’s going well. I’m sitting down so that makes it a lot easier versus standing up.
Ashley: For sure, for sure.
Sun: I just hope I don’t get thirsty.
Ashley: Well, I think there’s a remedy for that, we’ll talk after and I’ll let you know what you can do.
Ashley: All right well, let’s get right into it. So tell me about GreenForce Staffing, who you’re the recruitment manager for.
Sun: Yeah, so Green Force Staffing was started, let’s see in July 2016 by Ryan Rosenfeld. Ryan is actually an old friend of mine. One of the first people I met in Portland, Oregon. We’re based out of Portland and you know, both of us have a background in some medical marijuana in the past. What he saw happening was that as people who are in the medical cannabis field started going from basement grows into warehouse grows and going from 10/20 lights to a hundred, hundred fifty light facility that there’s going to be a larger need for labor and so he started GreenForce Staffing in order to meet those labor demands and also one of the things about the cannabis industry, I think with farms is that, you know, if you have a farm that you’re you know to the main core employee that you have you may only need five or seven or ten employees but then when harvest time comes or you know post-production and starts happening, then you need to scale up and you have this demand for short-term labor for a week or two weeks and that is kind of work GreenForce comes in or if companies fall behind and their production schedule we can you know, they can give us a call have some temporary labor coming in, you know, because we handle the scheduling, the payroll or the employee taxes, workers comp, you know, we make it very easy for our clients to just plug in play for the most part and then you know, another part of our company’s revenue stream is recruiting and head hunting as well so we work with a number of companies throughout the country that are looking for something more specific like a sales director or director of extraction lab or sales representatives or accountants of that sort and that’s where I come in also and do all the recruiting, the initial interviews and just trying to find the ideal candidate for companies that way because there’s a lot of time and costs involved with recruiting that for a lot of these startup companies or smaller companies that time is usually spent by the owner of the company that maybe they should be doing something other than trying to recruit people and maybe trying to grow their business and so we like to save them time and hopefully finding the best candidate possible.
Ashley: You mean to tell me that one person can’t just run a cannabis operation?
Sun: I mean usually they can for about two months and you know, that’s kind of how GreenForce was started as well as a one-man shop for about the first year but then as has the need for employees grew and the company grew with more and more clients, that’s when Ryan reached out to me and asked me to kind of come on board and help because he was doing all the business development, the interviewing of candidates, you know going to job sites and everything like that and scheduling and so I came on board to help with the recruiting side of things, you know, alleviate some of those pinch points.
Ashley: Save me son.
Sun: For a fee we can always discuss what we can do.
Ashley: Well, so you guys are located in Oregon but your clients are national, correct?
Sun: We do have a number of national clients, the majority of our clients are on the temporary employee side of the business, you know, our clients are going to be Oregon based we haven’t really expanded into other states at the moment. That is something that we are considering but as far as the recruiting at headhunting goes we’re working with companies in Oklahoma, California, Massachusetts, Michigan.
Ashley: Okay, good markets to be in and anticipate those numbers growing. I believe there’s a quarter of the country so left the legalized in I’m assuming going to legalize at some point or becomes federally legal and they don’t really have an option. I don’t think so we’ll see how that pans out. So a question that I haven’t really heard anyone answer is why should someone consider a career change into cannabis?
Sun: Well I think you know as you mentioned with federalization potentially right around the corner, even though Bidens Administration just recently had this weird thing with their staff who have come from legal states have used cannabis which are working remotely or have been let go, so that’s a bit of a discouragement I think but I think federal legalization can’t be far behind. I think more than two-thirds of the adult population in the United States favors legalization of cannabis I think you know as more and more States go medical and recreational and just from the tax revenue, States will legalize which then I think in terms the federal government will also legalized so that just leads to the potential growth in this industry is phenomenal. I was reading something just recently that was predicting that the market could be around a hundred twenty billion in the next year or two or a hundred thirty billion and you know, that’s more than the GDP of Nebraska and lots of other states and so I think because of that growth this is a good time to get in. What it reminds me of is sort of what it used to be known as a world wide web in the 1990s. How there is this unlimited potential of what was going to happen and I think we’re seeing that now especially with you know, Canada being legal as well as you know, Mexico’s talking about legalization of cannabis as well so, you know, if and then we will get into international trade, you know, the growth potential I think it’s huge and already I think the cannabis industry employs over 250,000 people in the country which you know is more than the coal industry currently and as that continues to grow I think it’s gonna be a major economic impact and so it is important for people to you know, if people are just bored selling insurance or maybe doing things like that I think you know, this is an exciting time for people to make that career change and that is one thing I’ve noticed is people who’ve been doing the same thing for the past 15/20 years that they’re interested in getting into cannabis for the last 10/15 years ago there, you know employment left before they get into retirement because they do see it as an exciting thing, it’s something that they’ve supported maybe in the past that they haven’t been able to publicly pronounce.
Ashley: Right. It’s almost like a no-brainer to get into the industry is the way that I look at. I like to hear different perceptions that people say as to why someone should consider that career change and I think the new headline with Biden and the administration saying, you know, they said one thing and then another thing happened I hope that doesn’t affect anybody thinking about considering that career change because they work in the healthcare field or they work already for a government office. I’d like to see things in more black and white and on paper before those statements are made and consider that when you do make that career change, you know, you just because the employer tells you that they may not penalize you for previous cannabis use make sure you get that on paper as well, you know, you don’t want to take a job…
Sun: Right, right.
Ashley: And then something happens but even in the cannabis industry, we’re testing for cannabis as well in employees so there still fine line there but hopefully that’ll all iron out as we get closer to legalization I think. So how can professionals with established careers already, how can they leverage what they’re already doing and apply that to a career in cannabis?
Sun: You know, I think it depends on each individual’s background, you know, there’s certain skill sets I find that are going to translate, it will make a smoother transition into cannabis if they want to such as finances, accounting, you know doing taxes, CPAs that sort of thing because you know doing taxes for a bread company versus a cannabis company, it’s gonna be very similar as you look at ledger’s, profits and losses and the only difference with filing taxes, I guess would be because it’s federally illegal still there’s some some other tax laws that you can’t, that you have to follow so, you know, I believe it’s 280e so cannabis businesses can’t write off as many things but overall if you’re just doing the bookkeeping and things of that sort is going to be similar between industries sales is also another industry, I think depending on especially if you come from a regulated industry like Pharmaceuticals, alcohol or tobacco transitioning into treatment cannabis is a fairly easy one because it’s very very similar in that sense, so I think you know, but then there’s going to be people such as operations directors or production line and manufacturing directors I think those people as well, you know, if you work a bottling line, you know a juice company or you’re working with a chocolate company that’s doing packaging so basically you just changing what’s going inside of a package when you come into cannabis so the process is still the same, you’re just using different packages. Now, of course that’s going to be variable upon each state because there’s different packaging laws for cannabis by state but overall the process is still the same, you know, people are looking for the six sigma I believe and lead manufacturing kind of skill sets and then so I think it’s easy to transition now for some other people though, it’s gonna be a little bit more difficult and then maybe a little bit of background in cannabis would be helpful such as taking some courses just to get some knowledge about what cannabis is, how it works, maybe the history of legalization or prohibition of cannabis can help people get into that cannabis space. Whereas I don’t recommend these kind of courses for most individuals but if you’re in the executive suite that I think it can be helpful to just give a better understanding of the industry.
Ashley: For sure as we’re talking about education where do you think it’s actually headed? There are some universities offering grad school programs but where do you think it’s actually going?
Sun: You know, I think right now it’s in different stages. I had an individual from a college in Maryland reach out to me about his cannabis curriculum course and it was mainly about just a general knowledge of cannabis whereas I think the way they had approached me as well was talking about it as a way to help people get jobs in cannabis such as being a budtender or the cultivation which I told him that course wouldn’t work so then at least, you know places that offer these, get yours master grower certification in six weeks, which I think is really a waste of money and I tell people that ask me is this worth doing and I was like, well, not really. I mean if you need some foundations you can just read a book and get the foundations but there’s no way to substitute real world experience and getting your hands dirty and actually seeing the real world problems and it sort of reminds me of when I used to work in the restaurant industry and we would have somebody come in from culinary school, they had all the knowledge, but once you know, they’re on the line and the rush said they really had no idea how to actually work under pressure. They could tell us what we needed to do but that actually know how to operate when it was time to operate and so I feel the same way with people who say oh I took this trimming course and they sent me three hemp buds and I watched a video and now I know how to trim which it’s not a hard skill to learn but it’s also because you’re just cutting leaves off of a plant and so people who are paying this money that I think to take these courses I think they’re wasting their money, especially just kind of get real world experience, if you want to be a cultivator grow your own plants if you are in state that’s legal. Start with one or two plants and just see what happens and then I think you know just like other industries if you want to be ahead grower then, you know, a lot of times if you don’t have that experience then it is starting at the bottom and that’s maybe you get in washing the pots or sweeping the floors and then working away of its kind of going back to the restaurant industry, you know starting off as a dishwasher and then working away of the different stations and yeah that real world experience I think is invaluable, you know until I see courses where it’s more than six weeks, I mean even after a year if I see people who send me resumes and they say they are a master grower on their resume, I’ve been growing for two years at my house, but for plants I just yeah. You know all the people I know with a lot of growing experince, no one would ever say that their master grower. Technology is always changing, everything is always changing so it’s always a learning experience but for the executives I think of background in cannabis courses is diable just to get an idea of what this industry is about, what this plant is and having that knowledge.
Ashley: I agree. Do you see any current jobs that are asking for any type of cannabis credentials? I know I haven’t.
Sun: I haven’t seen anything. I mean the only cave is credentials would be you know, each states that different worker requirement so for example in and Oregon you need to have the OLCC marijuana worker permit. You take a 35 question test. It’s kind of like getting a food handler’s permit whereas in Washington right across the river, you just have to be 21 years or older so I think you know, those are all the requirements I see. The only other one actually, I guess I’ve seen as a certification in MERTC which is a cannabis tracking system that Oregon utilizes. I believe California uses as well but there’s a number of states and that’s the states inventory tracking system for cannabis and their certifications available to that as well but for the most part I’ve ever seen anybody require, do you have this certification from 420 University? You know, I’ve never seen anything like that.
Yeah in California, I believe and I could be wrong each license facility actually has to have one person solely dedicated just to METRC they have to be hired just as their METRC compliance officer.
Sun: Right, very similar thing in Oregon as well.
Ashley: Okay, and I think it’s a one person job as well so if someone loves compliance and making sure their companies are doing everything the right way and they know how to study technical writing, I would highly encourage them to take a metric certification. I think that’s one of the valuable ones out there.
Ashley: Do you know of any credible schools or anyone offering cannabis certifications that would be credible for those Executives looking?
Sun: That’s a good question, Ashley. I don’t really know. Yeah, I don’t really know. I mean, there’s a University that I’ve seen people with certifications from. There used to be a company based out of Portland to ensure wellness but I haven’t really seen, nothing’s ever come out on top as like this is the school to go to. We don’t have the ivy league I don’t think in the cannabis world.
Ashley: That’s what I was hoping you would say is. There are a ton of certificate programs out there and universities offering programs but I don’t think it’s perfected yet and like you said, there’s not really anybody asking for that certificate so what’s the need to do it outside of just you want to get educated in it? I think it looks great on a resume, especially if you’ve been home growing for five to 10 years, it’s hard, how do you put that on a resume? I mean in cannabis, I guess you can, I’ve been growing for 5-10 years at home but how do you actually apply that onto a resume.
Sun: Right and you know, I was going to say, you know what degree though, that’s in traditional higher education would be you know, horticultural, horticulture or granome those kind of Bachelor’s or Master’s or Doctoral degrees, I think I seen some higher level positions where they want people to have a background or have that science background and so that if you were gonna go to get higher education and you have four years those would be some of the degree that I would pursue if you wanted to get more into the cultivation and the soil science side of things just because it has these cannabis companies and farmers become larger, you know, we’re basically getting into commercial agriculture and being a commodity and so I think that’s what some of those skill sets would come in that education would be beneficial.
Ashley: I agree. I agree. So let’s let’s shift gears a little bit and yeah, what kind of positions does GreenForce Staffing have currently available right now?
Sun: So right now, let’s see I’m working with a company out of Los Angeles, they’re looking for a director of cultivation that essentially they have a 20,000 square-foot blank slate and they need somebody to go from nuts to seeds to sale I guess they need somebody to take care of all that. I’m also working with a company out of Central Oregon, they need an extraction lab director to oversee multiple instructions that they have also working with this CBD company that’s looking for somebody to do bulk CBD sales. It’s two companies they make a proprietary extraction machine but having a showcase essentially and then for the showcase they’ll end up with a lot of bulk CBD extract so they need somebody to do the sales for that and then we’re always looking for an entry-level cannabis workers just for our staff here in Oregon, you know on average we employ between a hundred fifty two hundred employees that we send out to, you know, various job sites throughout the state and you know during the busiest season, the past three years basically I haven’t been able to hire enough people to cover all the shifts that we do have because you know there’s such demand, you know, and there’s you know, the depending on the timing of the especially early fall when it’s harvest season and everybody wants to be the first ones done.
Ashley: Absolutely so on the “Croptobar Fall Harvest” if someone because there’s a lot of people who just want to help during Croptobar, when would you suggest them actually applying for the croptobar positions with you guys?
Sun: You know for us I would say June, July because what’s happening now in Oregon I think is more and more people are doing light deprivation style of growing outdoors in southern Oregon so then there’s the harvest season, there’s essentially two harvest seasons now. One in June and then another one in August, September, October so I would say, you know, June/July is always a great time to apply with us. Please note that it Oregon, you know, there is a regulation that required all employees to have a marijuana worker permit but I think you know, if even if you’re going into California or anywhere else, you know, mid summer is a good time to get on people’s radar because some places are, you know, pulling earlier than others and then I think the real hiring will begin like July and that everybody’s just like bring me every hand you can find.
Ashley: Do you have to, I know where I’m from in Pennsylvania, people like to come out to California and in Oregon during that harvest season, do you have to be a resident of the state that you’re working?
Sun: You don’t have to be a resident for Oregon, you know, if you live in Pennsylvania, for example, you could take the test to get your work permit in Pennsylvania and just have it ready and then you know one thing that does happen every year in Oregon is because they have so many applications submitted from people coming in from all over the country, we even have people as well as the world but that makes it a little bit harder for us just because of the visa issues but across the country people are coming in during that season wanting to work and get their foot in the door because also if you don’t have any experience, this is one of the best times to get your foot into the door into the cannabis industry and get that experience and put it on your resume finally because that during that time there’s such a labor shortage usually companies will hire anyone who submits an application.
Ashley: Yeah. It’s very therapeutic too I know people who come out here for just Croptober and they’re like, this is what I do to relax myself at the end of the year and I don’t want to do anything else in the cannabis industry besides trim and okay alright, that’s fine.
Sun: It’s a great time to catch up on your podcasts or whatever you want to listen to and also just meet a lot of great individual.
Ashley: For sure great conversations for sure. Are you seeing people that do start out as trimers continuing to stay in the industry or does it fluctuate?
Sun: I do I mean a lot of our employees for example will have no experience with we’ll bring them on and you know, what really stands out I think in the cannabis industry are people who actually show up on time that our professional, have a good work ethic and no matter what your background is before what I find actually is people who have been in the cannabis industry for a while to have more of a sense of entitlement and maybe not the best employee whereas people who really are interested in getting into the cannabis industry, they work hard, they do well, they get hired on by our clients typically and then there’s another path with them to succeed and move up this cannabis ladder.
Ashley: Exactly, right, exactly right. So how can people reach GreenForce Staffing.
Sun: You can go to GreenForceStaffing.com, that’s our website and on our homepage, you’ll either see a link to our job board or if you’re a company, you can reach out to us to inquire about support. You can also call us at 503-707-3305 or I’m always happy to take any inquiries as well. You can just email me at Sun@GreenForceStaffing.com.
Ashley: Awesome. Well, I appreciate all the insights you were able to give us and there’s opportunity out there for everyone and I really wanted to help spread this message so I thank you for your time today and I look forward to having you back probably closer to Croptobarand seeing what other need you might have.
Sun: That sounds great. Ashley, I appreciate you guys having me on today and it was real pleasure talking with you and yeah, have a great rest of your week and then I will talk again soon.
Ashley: My thanks again to Sun Lee of Green for Staffing for being my guest on today’s episode. You can follow our series Careers in Cannabis as well as more great shows like this one at TRICHOMES.com. If you are a member of the cannabis community and you have a story you want to share with us, please reach out. You can reach a show by emailing careersincannabis@TRICHOMES.com. Please take a second to subscribe to the podcast and write a review. It really helps others to find the show. You can also join in the discussion with industry insiders by following us on all socia lmedia and visiting TRICHOMES.com. For TRICHOMES.com I’m Ashley Manning, thank you for listening and be well.