The competition for seasonal workers for this year’s outdoor cannabis harvest has been relatively fierce. Many marijuana growers have downsized their full-time workforce in recent years in response to inflation, high-interest rates and the substantial capital required to compensate for this labor shortage.
Over the past one and a half years, there have been numerous layoffs in the industry, resulting in slimmer crews that require additional assistance during the harvest season, according to Viridian Staffing CEO Kara Bradford. An April report from Vangst showed that total cannabis job numbers have declined by 2% since 2022, marking the first decline in the industry since the legalization of marijuana in various states.
EzHire Cannabis CEO and cofounder Jacob Carlson noted that cannabis companies struggled to establish full-time cultivation teams with competitive salaries and benefits, resulting in the need for temporary workers.
The demand for seasonal employees has also surged due to increasing competition from mainstream industries grappling with similar economic challenges.
Viridian has seen a surge in requests for temporary workers during the fall’s “Croptober,” when most outdoor harvests occur. However, Bradford stated that companies are often deterred by the costs associated with hiring a recruitment firm, as they mistakenly assume that temporary workers are cheaper than full-time employees.
In reality, factors such as inflation and rising wages have made temporary workers costly. Currently, the average hourly pay for a marijuana trimmer is $16, which can go up to $40 depending on experience. In addition to this, recruitment companies have to cover expenses such as workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance and workplace safety training, which many operators overlook, making the hiring cost high.
The work involved in cannabis harvesting is more demanding than regular retail jobs, leading to higher turnover rates. Additionally, in some states, growers face obstacles such as background checks and criminal record checks when hiring temporary marijuana workers.
Larger companies, especially multistate operators, have a financial advantage and can afford to pay higher wages to attract seasonal workers. Smaller operators, on the other hand, may find it challenging to compete, given the cost constraints.
In the past, full-time, noncultivation employees were used for outdoor harvests; today, more companies are seeking temporary workers with experience. Trimmers, in particular, require knowledge and experience because the job can be isolating, with long hours spent alone. For small companies, this means higher costs, which can be hard for some to meet.
Karson Humiston, CEO of Vangst, views the increased demand for seasonal workers as a sign of a maturing market. She stated that companies have become more adept at predicting the labor needs, particularly during the fall harvest season, which necessitates additional workers. “The early demand for autumn harvest workers as early as April is a positive sign, indicating that businesses are adopting more sophisticated HR strategies to better forecast their labor needs,” she said.
The labor changes being seen regarding harvesters shows how the marijuana industry and its players like Tilray Brands Inc. (NASDAQ: TLRY) (TSX: TLRY) will adjust their systems in order to stay afloat even when the market experiences headwinds like the current high inflation.
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