Job opportunities in the Canadian cannabis industry on freeze, except in this sector

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Although employment in cannabis manufacturing started to slide in March and continued shrinking through June as some of Canada’s largest producers announced layoffs, not all the official data is downbeat.

Indeed Canada tracked cannabis-related job postings by tallying those mentioning terms like “cannabis” and “budtender” in their job descriptions, excluding those that also feature phrases like “drug test.” Among the most common jobs are retail-related roles like sales associate, store manager, and budtender, as well as non-retail positions including technician, harvester, and consultant.

Overall, the hiring appetite in the Canadian cannabis sector hasn’t been immune from the COVID-19 pandemic. Job postings that included cannabis-related terms dropped 29 per cent after the week of March 13, a somewhat smaller decline than the plunge in economy-wide postings.

That said, cannabis job postings were already declining heading into the pandemic. These postings boomed in 2018 in anticipation of legalization and that momentum carried over into the summer of 2019. Cannabis-related postings eventually peaked at 0.54 per cent of all Canadian job postings in late July. Momentum then reversed and postings started to drop, falling 40 per cent as a share of total activity to below 0.32 per cent in early March 2020.

As the pandemic’s initial shock on job postings has faded, cannabis sector postings have rebounded modestly, similar to the trajectory of the broader economy.

Retail jobs holding up better, but still have a small footprint

With legalization approaching its third year, it’s not surprising that hiring plans have cooled in many areas of the sector. Retail is an exception.

Cannabis retailing in some provinces, particularly Ontario, was initially slow to roll out but has since opened up. In fact, postings for retail-related cannabis jobs have been relatively strong since the pandemic’s initial shock passed and are currently at similar levels to last summer. However, they haven’t been enough to stem the sector’s overall decline. While they’ve nearly doubled as a share of total cannabis postings since mid-2019, retail-related jobs still accounted for just 18 per cent of total cannabis sector postings in early September.

One reason for retail’s limited footprint is that, despite a recent increase in Ontario, demand there remains relatively low compared with other regions like Alberta, where private cannabis retailers have been operating since legalization. Retail-related cannabis postings made up just 0.05 per cent of all Ontario job postings at the end of August, compared with 0.28 per cent of all postings in Alberta. This suggests potential room to run for hiring in Ontario’s retail space, particularly once the cloud of the pandemic passes.

Job seeker interest has also cooled

Job seeker interest in the cannabis sector experienced a huge surge in the lead-up to legalization, with cannabis-related searches spiking as a share of total searches during the week of legalization in October 2018. Interest quickly calmed in the following weeks and the cannabis-related job search share drifted down further over 2019 and early 2020. It has since stabilized. In early September, 0.22 per cent of all Canadian job searches included cannabis-related terms, a similar share to the level that prevailed before an official legalization date was announced in June 2018.

Cannabis job landscape starting to resemble the rest of the economy

 The Canadian cannabis sector may have initially caught the imagination of many people, but both job postings and job seeker interest have come down from their earlier highs. Prospects for further growth hinge on how large a share of the market the licensed portion of the sector captures. Expanding the scope of brick-and-mortar retail could bring further gains, but might have to wait until the pandemic fades and daily life resumes.

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