Pot-growing program a boon for the industry, producers say
New program at Dieppe community college will train cannabis cultivation technicians
Executives at two large medical marijuana producers say a new program in New Brunswick to teach people to cultivate the product say it would reduce their training burden and could help them fill jobs.
The course is a pilot project that will be run at the community college in Dieppe. The provincial Liberal government announced Monday it will pay to cover the full tuition for the starting group of 25 students, around $70,000 in total.
The 12-week program will train students in horticulture and what they need to know to ensure successful growth of the plant.
Dr. Luc Duchesne, the chief scientific officer for WeedMD, a producer and distributor of medical cannabis based in Aylmer, Ont., said he was "very enthusiastic" about this kind of program, because it would reduce the amount of training his company has to do.
"Having people who have been trained by somebody else is a big to-do for us," he said.
"They've been taught by experts, they've been graded, they've worked in teams, they've developed a healthy respect for the environment. So when they come in, it's a matter of fitting into the workplace rather than facing a steep learning curve."
There is very complex training involved with cultivating medical marijuana, he explained, as it always has to have the same levels of pharmaceutical ingredients in the plants.
"It's a complex environment to produce flowers that are of consistent quality," he said.
Skills producers are looking for
Mark Zekulin, president of Canopy Growth Corporation, the largest, publicly traded marijuana producer in Canada, also said cannabis is a unique product to grow and harvest, so having people available who are already trained to cultivate it would be a great thing for Canopy Growth as an employer.
The company is working on establishing a new site in Fredericton. It has also signed an agreement with the New Brunswick government to be a supplier of recreational marijuana, along with Organigram, in September.
"Having knowledge of very specific factors to look for for flushing or when to harvest or when to leave the product in the vegetative state, those are all skills that typically we'll need to train people on the job site," he said.
"It's that skill set that we'll really be looking for in New Brunswick over the next six months to a year."
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Ray Gracewood, the chief commercial officer of Organigram, which helped develop the curriculum, said the course should give students "a foot ahead of the game" to get jobs in the industry.
The company is planning to more than double its staff over the next year — to 250 from 110 by the end of 2018.
Gracewood said he couldn't guarantee the company would hire all 25 students, if they graduate from the course, but said they would be great candidates for those positions.
"We will be looking for a lot of expertise in the next few months," he said.
"The hope is that there is a place for these people."
Meeting industry need, minister says
Roger Melanson, New Brunswick's post-secondary education minister, said the program was designed to meet a specific industry need, and the government decided to provide the tuition for the first 25 students to help ensure it is successful.
"As this industry evolves, as a government, we want to make sure this is done responsibility," he said. "We want to make sure when people take this course, they can go and receive best skill set possible to take these jobs.
"We wanted to be able to measure how much interest there will be, how successful this will be for the industry, then evaluate how we go forward."
The government named the cannabis industry as one of the pillars of its economic growth plan last fall.
Melanson said the province wants to make sure there is a skilled labour force available to fill the jobs the industry is expected to create.
With files from Harry Forestell