How cannabis is creating new careers in Windsor-Essex

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There's a brick building on the southeast edge of Windsor run by someone who never dreamt she would help people consume cannabis.

Twenty years ago, Lisa Hogan started at Windsor Regional Hospital (WRH), where she worked her way into management at the family birthing centre.

"It was an amazing, very fulfilling career," said Hogan, marking it as a career goal.

But then Hogan's life changed. Her father was diagnosed with cancer and he made a decision that changed her life.

"My father used cannabis at the end of his life, and that's what changed my image and my view on the product," she said, sitting inside the education centre of the Natural Health Services (NHS) medical cannabis clinic that she runs.

New employer in expanding industry

Two years ago, Hogan left her stable, management position at WRH and joined Alberta-based NHS as it looked to expand into Ontario. 

Her jump to the cannabis industry is an example of how some people in Windsor-Essex have viewed the expanding sector as a career opportunity, while some others industries face uncertainty.

"I think that I was fortunate to know when that opportunity was knocking on my doorstep, and to not be afraid," said Hogan, who believes there are four medical marijuana clinics in Windsor.

The NHS location in Windsor opened last year with six full-time employees, but Hogan anticipates the staffing level will triple in the near future based on the first year of operation. 

Working in a new industry

"I've had people laugh when I told them that I'm in the medical marijuana industry," said Alex Jean, a fourth-year Kinesiology student at the University of Windsor.

Jean is a patient educator at NHS, where he works with patients and physicians to make sure people know how to consume cannabis and properly track their dosage. 

"I'm very lucky to just have the opportunity to be here," said Jean, who quit a pair of jobs to work with Hogan while finishing university. 

When he applied to post-secondary schools, his career aspirations were physiotherapy or chiropractic, then he shifted from ergonomics to prosthetics.

"Then a complete 180 to cannabis research as I started working with NHS," said Jean, who believes the cannabis industry is a way to diversify the economy in a region built on the automotive sector.

Job fair attracts hundreds of applicants

Part of the reason people in Windsor has its eye on cannabis has to do with greenhouse cannabis grower Aphria in nearby Leamington. 

That's where Jacob Kenny, who works in shipping and receiving at a warehouse company in the supply chain for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in Windsor, hopes to find himself working in the near future.

"The automotive industry is struggling right now, so I'm hoping to get into the new industry — cannabis," said Kenny, one of 400 people who were interviewed at a job fair for Aphria this month.

The company aims to hire 130 people as the company expands, which totals a workforce of over 600 employees in the region. 

I've had people laugh when I told them that I'm in the medical marijuana industry- Alex Jean

Aphria's president Jakob Ripshtein said they want to hire employees with diverse skills.

Ripshtein's advice for people looking to enter the cannabis industry in the near future is to build up a science-based resume and be comfortable adapting their skills as the industry changes.

"As this industry grows we actually borrow skills from other industries and other expertise that come to us," said Ripshtein. 

"We like the diversity of thought."

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