Northern Essex Community College has launched an effort to support the state’s fast-growing cannabis industry and help area residents find jobs in the field.
The college, with campuses in Haverhill and Lawrence, began a job training program in November to prepare students to work in recreational and medical marijuana businesses.
The program is offered through the college’s community education department, and involves three eight-week online courses. For each course they complete, students earn a certificate that can bolster their credentials in seeking jobs and advancement in the industry.
Green Flower, a California-based cannabis industry training provider, is administering the classes for the college, according to Suzzette Turnbull, the Northern Essex program manager of community education.
Turnbull said Northern Essex began planning for the program in 2020 after hearing from local cannabis operators that they needed better-trained workers. She said the college realized helping those businesses would also open job opportunities for the area workforce.
“Our industry partners are looking for employees able to provide excellent customer service but who are also knowledgeable about the product,” she said of local cannabis business owners, who provided input into the development of the program.
In Massachusetts, which legalized adult marijuana use six years ago, cumulative recreational sales are surging toward $4 billion, with more than 225 retailers in communities across the state.
Nationwide, the cannabis industry creates on average 280 jobs every day and now employs more than 450,000 people, the college said, citing Green Flower.
Turnbull said several other Massachusetts community colleges have initiated cannabis industry programs, but Northern Essex is the first public institution in the state to partner with Green Flower.
“As the cannabis industry continues to grow significantly, leaders from the college looked to find ways for people in the area and beyond to become highly qualified to work in cannabis retail, manufacturing, and agriculture environments,” said Daniel Kalef, Green Flower’s vice president of higher education.
“We can think of no better college or group of people in the Commonwealth with whom to partner to offer these courses,” he added of Northern Essex.
Caroline Pineau, owner of Stem, a cannabis dispensary in downtown Haverhill, said the initiative will provide valuable benefits to the state’s emerging marijuana industry and those who aspire to work in it. There are now four dispensaries in Haverhill alone, she said.
“It provides the technical training workers need to enter the industry with a solid skill set. It creates an academic framework upon which other cannabis-related educational programs can be built. And it helps normalize the industry by treating it like any other industry,” said Pineau, a member of Northern Essex’ Foundation board.
The new courses, open to anyone 18 and older, are Advanced Manufacturing Agent, Advanced Dispensary Associate, and Advanced Cultivation Technician. Turnbull said the classes, which reflect the varied employment opportunities within the cannabis field, are considered advanced because they are comprehensive.
Students can enroll in the classes at any time and do the coursework at their own pace. They are given regular quizzes to test their knowledge, and must pass a test at the end of each module to advance further in the course.
The fee is $800 per course, with the college and Green Flower sharing the revenues.
Turnbull said the college plans to expand the program next spring by adding in-person classes that will include field visits to area cannabis businesses.
“They are very motivated,” she said of the marijuana businesses that are partnering to host those visits. “They have made themselves available to help us make the program the most beneficial to our students.”
“I’m most excited about the experiential component of the program,” Pineau said, “the one-on-one interaction students will have with real operators. Offering that experience shows the creativity in which a progressive institution like Northern Essex looks to the future.”
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