Cannabis education will take a massive hit due to COVID-19

Published Jun 8, 2020 11:00 a.m. ET
iStock / XiXinXing

The world for many has been flipped upside down, as we attempt to adjust to a new way of life that may stick around for quite a while, but some of us are more adversely impacted than others. Students of all ages are now experiencing a shortage of human interaction and education that’s either been abruptly halted or moved over to an online platform. What was supposed to be a time for learning, has turned into a mess of thrown together virtual sessions that simply cannot replace in-person education, and this is going to negatively impact the future of the cannabis industry.

The first year of certified Canadian graduates

In Canada, cannabis was legalized in October of 2018, which left very little time in the year for anyone who wanted to get educated in the industry to do so. The majority, in particular, of those seeking specialized positions, had to wait until the following September in 2019 for anything to come available. Most schools simply weren’t ready to offer suitable material for cannabis courses so quickly, but those that did saw surprisingly high university and college admissions for these specific options.

In September of 2019, many students started their journey towards what they’d hoped would be a fruitful career within the cannabis industry, but much like everything else, COVID-19 now stands in the way of their progression. It was the middle of March, approximately ¾ of the way through the school year when Canadian officials sent most students home on an emergency order, and to date, none have been able to resume normal classes.

Some courses are able to be altered in a way that allows them to be taught online, but even those that are, do not offer the same kind of experience. This means that only a small fraction of this year’s graduate classes will be allowed to receive credit for all of their hard work and that the majority are getting lost in the system due to total unavailability of their course, or because of difficultly traversing online education, that offers very little in the way of learning supports, or hands-on experience.

Students of all kinds are experiencing these problems as the world evolves to accommodate the latest challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the cannabis industry will be hit hard for a few different reasons. The biggest and most devastating reason being that this industry and cannabis education courses have barely had a chance to begin, which will stop new blood from entering this year, and slow down the progress of multi-year students, who still has a ways to go to earn certification.

It may soon appear as though college admissions for cannabis courses are rising

Now that everyone is stuck at home, the prevalence of online courses has gone up, as they are the only viable option for students who want to continue with their learning right now, rather than waiting for an undetermined date in the future, but much of what is offered isn’t designed to educate those who want higher positions. In fact, over 90% of online cannabis courses won’t provide enough experience or knowledge to work in a dispensary as a budtender, which means that they hold very little value in the grand scheme of things.

As it sits now, many of the highest-ranking cannabis positions in Canada are held by people who were never trained to be in this industry. We have professionals who had transferrable skills instead. One example of this is flower specialists and botanists who know about plant biology, but little to no idea about cannabis. Another would be higher paid marketing positions, who really know very little about consumers and what they truly want. This isn’t a terrible thing, as it was necessary at the time, but we were supposed to move past that and into a flourishing future with true cannabis enthusiasts.

How this will impact the industry

Truthfully, it is difficult to predict how this could adversely impact the industry, but the glaring problem of under-skilled workers who lack the passion and experience with cannabis is likely to rear its ugly head over this next year. Though it is true, that some who are in positions of power in the industry are pulling the extra weight, we are already experiencing a shortage of qualified candidates to keep our current system going, and if we don’t get more, there won’t be room for the market to expand and flourish in the future.

When can students expect to return to school?

No school means no education, and for many, this is going to create a significant challenge when it comes to obtaining specialized work within the cannabis industry. Unfortunately, there is no way to know for certain when colleges and universities will be open again, but many seem to be planning for as soon as September, with reduced class sizes and limited spaces. So even though you may have to wait for a high-quality cannabis course to come available, the opportunity will come again soon.

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