Filling Vacancies for a California Cannabis Company During a Pandemic Can Make You Crazy — and Proud
“The pandemic has been crazy,” says Monica Garcia, the sole Human Resources employee at NewTropic and self-described “one-woman band.” Garcia was employee #12 when she came on in January 2020 to join NewTropic’s sales team. Early in the ensuing nine months, someone found out about her HR background and it quickly became her job to help get 128 new employees onboarded. With the need for good workers exacerbated once cannabis became recognized by the state as “essential,” the sales team never stood a chance at keeping her.
“I came from 15 years in the staffing/recruiting side of things. I used to do mass hiring for food manufacturing in Sonoma County as well as for wineries, so some of it was seasonal. But I’ve never been in this situation,” Garcia says with a laugh. “This is the most challenging of them all.”
I came from 15 years in the staffing/recruiting side of things. I used to do mass hiring for food manufacturing in Sonoma County as well as for wineries, so some of it was seasonal. But I’ve never been in this situation. This is the most challenging of them all.
- Monica Garcia
Manager of People & Culture
Pay to Stay Away?
NewTropic had always planned on ramping up its hiring in 2020 but no one saw the pandemic coming. At a time when the company had counted on having plenty of new hands on deck, prospective employees became nervous about spending eight hours each day inside a manufacturing space with others, Garcia says, even though NewTropic put the highest standards in place to protect its employees. There was also the matter of that extra $600 a week, the additional payment that was added each week to unemployment benefits.
While some scoff that people were disincentivized by the additional unemployment payment initially offered during the first months of the COVID experience, Garcia says it definitely impacted her hiring pool. “These are by and large hands-on blue-collar jobs,” she says, “and people truly could make more money by remaining on unemployment than they could coming in to work.” Fear around getting ill from being onsite just made it worse.
“My first mass hiring during the beginning of the pandemic was much different than it is now,” Garcia says as a series of historic wildfires continue to burn along the West Coast. “We’re still dealing with the pandemic but now we’re also dealing with the fires! Fortunately, because the Employment Development Department has dropped that $600 a week payment, people are now better understanding how to stay safe during a pandemic and they’re more inclined to come to a factory and do that work.”
Garcia says it’s been an unexpected pleasure to be able to hire in Latino employees who are used to laboring outdoors with wine grapes and had never dealt with cannabis before. “They like this work,” she says. “It’s not backbreaking and it’s located inside. I’m always hearing that they’ll never go back!”
Roots + Suits
Since she came on, NewTropic has expanded from one facility to three sites spread across Sonoma County as well as adding offices in downtown Santa Rosa. Shifts have increased steadily, and will soon include graveyard, swing, and weekend opportunities. While manufacturing requires workers, it also needs leaders. Ideally, it offers opportunities to both those who have been in cannabis since before legalization as well as those coming from more traditional corporate backgrounds, a combo sometimes called “Roots and Suits.”
Based in New York, the FlowerHire recruiting firm collaborates with candidates across the U.S. to fill the C-suite positions that accommodate professionals who are both Roots and Suits.
FlowerHire founder David Belsky focuses on cannabis’ role as an economic driver. “Employment in cannabis has been a bright spot in California over the past several months in an era of furloughs for the retail, entertainment, and hospitality sector,” he says. “With the essential services designation not only are cannabis operators open for business but they are faced with an often overwhelming level of response to any public job posting. It may be true that, for many folks, the COVID unemployment benefits gave them more comfort in staying home but with those benefits winding down, more and more people are looking at cannabis for employment for the first time.”
Garcia’s experience matches Belsky’s. “In this industry, it is not difficult to recruit executives. We’ve had top tier candidates change course in order to join us,” she says. “They understand NewTropic and the direction we’re going, and they’re really excited to be a part of the growth opportunities.”
What excites Garcia is the chance to shape the experience of being at a rapidly growing young company like NewTropic. “I wanted to help build the culture of the company because I know that having a strong foundation in our culture helps us to be one of the best places to work,” she says.
“I love being able to walk around the manufacturing space and know everyone’s first name and be able to ask how they are,” Garcia says with a smile. “I’m also doing more things to show appreciation to the employees, like offering increased benefits and giving out swag bags at 90-day reviews, bringing food trucks onto our sites and hosting everyone for lunch, and celebrating birthdays. I’m making sure that I’m always the face of the company so that people know who to come to. Our referral programs show that people like working here and refer their friends and families to our job listings. That makes me proud.”
I wanted to help build the culture of the company because I know that having a strong foundation in our culture helps us to be one of the best places to work.
- Monica Garcia
Industry Hiring Tips
“When you’re seeking top talent for the cannabis industry, there are a few essential factors to consider,” says Liesl Bernard, CEO of CannabizTeam, whose new cannabis salary guide was just released. “Seek a candidate who is positive, self-motivated, and tenacious in their passion to work in the industry. Relevant education and work experience is essential, but when interviewing, also look for examples where their work experience showcased their ability to take initiative, implement creative problem-solving skills and be a flexible team player.” Liesl’s other hiring tips include:
- Look for candidates with exceptional cognitive flexibility — adaptability is important in the industry.
- Don’t ignore candidates with unconventional journeys.
- Seek C-level talent who guide their employees and then trust them to make smart decisions — coaching skills are pivotal for leaders in cannabis.
- Seek creative problem-solvers to help your business stay relevant and help the company to be future-proof.
- Use objective criteria and monitor for direct and indirect discrimination in the hiring process.