Jeff Hayden says the Cannabis Education Center is a much-needed training ground that will support the growth of an industry on the rise in Holyoke and across Massachusetts.
Investment, job creation, and tax revenue.
According to Jeff Hayden, vice president of Business and Community Services at Holyoke Community College (HCC), these are the three keys to economic development.
They’re also precisely what the cannabis industry is bringing to the state of Massachusetts, which is why HCC has created the Cannabis Education Center, a new series of non-credit courses that provide skilled workforce training to prepare participants for a career in the cannabis industry.
HCC has partnered with the Cannabis Community Care and Research Network (C3RN) to create the first-ever cannabis training center in the state, and classes and programs are in full swing.
Hayden said the conversation about a cannabis training course started two and a half years ago, when discussion was heating up across the Bay State about the prospects of legal, adult-use cannabis — and how the Cannabis Control Commission would handle an expected proliferation of businesses. Once word got out that the commission would be licensing companies — and, therefore, creating jobs in the state — HCC jumped into action.
“Right now, there are about 75 employees in Holyoke who work for cannabis companies, but the projection is that, within a year of those licenses being granted to them, there will be somewhere between 400 or 500 employees in Holyoke.”
“When we heard that, we started to look around for different resources to try to learn more about what was going to happen, and especially what was going to happen in terms of the workforce training and how does someone get ready for the jobs that are going to come in this field,” he told BusinessWest.
About 14 companies have already applied for 21 licenses, and counting, in Holyoke alone. Two are active, both run by Green Thumb Industries on Appleton Street, and the rest are provisional or pending. But that won’t be the case for long.
“Right now, there are about 75 employees in Holyoke who work for cannabis companies, but the projection is that, within a year of those licenses being granted to them, there will be somewhere between 400 or 500 employees in Holyoke,” Hayden said.
Soon, the demand for trained, qualified employees in several different cannabis careers will skyrocket, and there needs to be people to fill those positions.
That’s where HCC comes in.
Growing Like a Weed
Hayden says there are currently five key pillars under the Cannabis Education Center’s umbrella: community education, meaning teaching people all about the cannabis industry; social-equity training; occupational training; custom contract training to cannabis businesses, including communication, leadership, and mentorship skills; and developing different trainings that would be useful for the industry.
Sage Franetovich says there’s a lot of curiosity around the subject of cannabis, and she expects the career prospects to draw people from different backgrounds.
“In all these pillars that we have, we hope that we’re providing a broad-based approach to the industry to either the job seeker or the business so that they can get the training and skills they need either to get on that career track or to be able to be a successful business,” said Hayden. “The hope, really, in terms of what they walk away with, are stackable credentials.”
A few examples of rising careers in this industry are cannabis culinary assistant, cannabis retail/patient advocate, cannabis cultivation assistant, and cannabis extraction technician assistant.
But HCC’s cannabis education doesn’t stop at the center. The college is also soon to offer its first credit-based cannabis-related course, called “Cannabis Today,” through its Sustainability Studies program. While no cannabis will be allowed on campus, the programs will use off-site locations for programs that require practice with the plant.
Sage Franetovich, Biology professor at HCC, will be teaching the class and said she has been working on developing the curriculum for the fall of 2020, and hopefully sooner, in the summer, if all goes well.
“With a response to the growing market and job market, we decided it would be a good fit to offer a course on cannabis cultivation with a focus on hemp,” she said.
The class will target topics such as the cultivation of hemp, indoor growing versus outdoor growing, and plant diseases and pest management.
Franetovich said she has been working with several people in the cannabis industry to develop the best possible curriculum for the class. “I think there’s a lot of curiosity around the subject, and I think that will be a draw for people from different backgrounds.”
All this activity comes in response to what will soon be incredibly high (no pun intended) demand for a cannabis workforce.
“When you start to think about that many new people coming in, that’s the equivalent of some of the large things that have happened regionally, like the CRRC company in Springfield, or MGM,” Hayden said.
And this center is striving to prepare people for careers in cannabis with everything from knowledge of the cannabis plant to knowledge of the industry itself, to understanding the commission’s regulations and how those impact the way they’ll do their jobs.
For example, a culinary technician working with edibles needs to know some of the ways the chemicals impact the edible product, specific measurements, levels of dosing, and more.
In the end, all this training is an investment that will, hopefully, bring the city of Holyoke a lot of jobs, and a lot of revenue.
Hayden estimates that between $20 million and $30 million has already been invested in the cannabis industry in Holyoke alone, despite only two operating licenses so far. He says the taxes going to the state will be significant, but 3% of sales also goes to the municipality. That means $1 million in sales equals $30,000 in taxes for the city of Holyoke.
“It’s a significant amount of money that the town can garner,” he said. “This past year, we’ve already received over $100,000 from cannabis-related companies for the city of Holyoke with only two licenses.”
And, so far, the response to the center has been positive, he noted. One of the first programs, a one-time class on the business and accounting side, drew 15 participants, and more than 100 people have expressed interest in training.
The first occupational training course began on Jan. 25 at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute and will continue for five more Saturdays for eight hours a day. C3RN will then place those who successfully complete the course in internships with local companies.
The ultimate goal of all these trainings is not simply to hand participants a diploma, but give them several certifications that will allow them to thrive in every aspect of the field.
“That’s really what we’re shooting for, someone who’s got multiple pieces of paper,” Hayden said. “It’s not just one diploma, it’s multiple pieces of paper that show to an employer that they’re ready for the job and that they can learn from the employer in terms of the skills they need for the future.”
Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]