Day 6

Pot jobs could soften the blow for Alberta's oil workers

Pot may not be the new oil, but rapid job creation in the cannabis industry should offer comfort to laid off oilpatch workers in Alberta, says Alison McMahon of Cannabis at Work.

Former oil and gas workers have 'a lot of transferable skill sets,' pot executives say

As Alberta's oil sector suffers a downturn, employers and HR experts in the cannabis industry say oilpatch workers have skills they could bring into the pot business. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)
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An Alberta man who built drilling rigs in the province's oilpatch for 16 years before the recession says a budding wave of employment opportunities is being spurred by cannabis legalization.

Jason Marshall lost his job as a contractor for a Calgary oil and gas company that shuttered in 2014 when the price of oil came crashing down. 

"My wife and I just decided to start looking at other business opportunities, not necessarily related to the oilpatch," Marshall said.

That's when recreational marijuana came onto their radar.

This week, Marshall and his wife, Irene Struc, opened Green Earth Cannabis, a large pot storefront in Calgary.

"It's awesome," he said. "We really haven't looked back."

A new cannabis storefront, Green Earth Cannabis, opened its doors in Calgary this week. Its co-owner Jason Marshall is a former oilpatch worker. (Green Earth Cannabis/Facebook)

Marshall's story is familiar to Alison McMahon, founder and chief executive of Cannabis at Work, a company that matches workers with marijuana businesses.

"I think there is a lot of people in Alberta who are fatigued by the boom-bust cycle of the oil and gas sector and are looking at the growth in the cannabis sector," she told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

Cannabis companies, both in Alberta and across Canada, are on a hiring spree following legalization.

Alberta has a certain kind of entrepreneurial dynamism to it.- Cam  Battley,  chief corporate officer at Aurora Cannabis Inc.

This week, Bloomberg reported that Canada's largest cannabis companies are now actively recruiting for around 1,700 jobs.

Cam Battley, chief corporate officer at Aurora Cannabis Inc., told Day 6 an estimated 10 per cent of all of his company's recent hires have come from the oil and gas sector, so far.

These new additions to Aurora's workforce are mostly concentrated in Alberta and Saskatchewan, he said.

In just two years, the national medical marijuana producer has acquired 15 companies, said Battley, adding the company needs to expand its workforce to integrate all of those companies into its fold.

Alison McMahon, founder and chief executive of Cannabis at Work, says workers in Alberta's oilpatch have skills that could come in handy in the province's budding cannabis sector. (Submitted by Alison McMahon)

But the career boom doesn't stop there. McMahon anticipates the cannabis industry will produce 125,000 jobs across the country in the next few years as a result of legalization.

"Right now, Alberta has about 15 per cent of the production facilities, and so that suggests to us that we probably have approaching around 20,000 jobs in this province," she said.

Once cannabis edibles and concentrates are allowed into the market in the next couple of years, McMahon says there will be even more job opportunities.

Transferable skills

That's because many of the skills employees developed in the oilpatch are transferable to the cannabis sector, both Battley and McMahon said. 

Those include experience in production, project management, and occupational health and safety. But corporate level skills like accounting, human resources and information technology are also easily transferable, McMahon noted.

In fact, Marshall said his oil rig experience came in handy when he was building the layout and design of his cannabis store.

Cam Battley, chief corporate officer of Aurora Cannabis Inc., says an estimated 10 per cent of his company's recent hires have come from the oil and gas sector. (Terry Reith/CBC)

"We basically had an old furniture warehouse. We did a complete gutting of the place and the complete build from the ground up," he said.

"I did my own drawings. I did all the permit applications; I did some of the demo work."

But of course, not all workers who thrived in the oilpatch will find a match in cannabis, McMahon said.

"It might be harder to play somebody who's a civil engineer into this sector," she said.

Workers in the cannabis sector make salaries that are comparable to other industries, she said.

Calgary oil companies are cutting their dividends and reducing production because of current steep discounts on western Canadian oil prices. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

According to two salary surveys conducted by Cannabis at Work, the average master grower makes somewhere between $80,000 and $120,000, whereas a person working in quality assurance brings in roughly $90,000.

The pay is not what people made in oil and gas 10 years ago, she said, but it's equivalent to what folks in the oilpatch are earning now.

Alberta has an edge on pot

When it comes to attracting cannabis companies, McMahon said Alberta has an edge over other provinces.

Alberta's private retail model for the sale of cannabis is a big draw for businesses, she said, pointing out there is also a large skilled workforce thanks to the oil and gas sector.

Battley said Alberta's relatively lower cost of power is also attractive to cannabis companies, as well as its tax rates.

"Alberta has a certain kind of entrepreneurial dynamism to it," he said.


To hear the full interview with Alison McMahon, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.

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