Preparing Front-line Staff

Every industry relies on the most up-to-date training practices for its frontline workers, to ensure profitability reaches its maximum potential. However, what if you are in a newly-legalized, emerging sector that is learning how to adapt to constant change? Such is the challenge for Canada’s cannabis retail market that is not even a year old. In an effort to understand how brick-and-mortar cannabis stores are implementing best practices for training bud-tenders, managers, and owners alike, Cannabis Retailer reached out to a number of businesses to share their ideas.


“I looked for cannabis knowledge [when hiring]. That was the biggest factor I was interested in,” says Jim Southam, president & CEO of Prairie Cannabis in Prince Albert, SK. Southam added that when training his employees he focuses on their ability to speak with people and how “friendly and relatable” they are. “I even encouraged my bud-tenders who are dealing with customers, to lean on fellow co-workers, as nobody knows everything in the cannabis industry. Don’t be afraid to tell people ‘I don’t know that’ and look it up on Google.” Southam and his staff took the mandatory CannSell course required for retail operators in Saskatchewan, which he felt was adequate based on the early days of legalization that the country is in. He expects items will be added to the course as time goes on. “It was a good starting place for employees to get an understanding of what to expect, and some good basic information about the laws and regulations that are in place today.” he said.


Meanwhile at the east end of the country on Prince Edward Island, PEI Cannabis has its own methods to ensure a trained and knowledgeable staff. “Very early in the planning phase, we knew the primary themes of our customer experience strategy were going to be verifiable product education, responsible consumption, and friendly service,” said Zach Currie, Director, Cannabis Operations. “To achieve this, we first structured job ads to attract candidates with things like cannabis training credentials, experience in retail sales, experience working with controlled substances (e.g. beverage alcohol, pharmaceuticals, etc.), and knowledge of the emerging legislative framework surrounding adult-use cannabis in Canada.” Currie added that they did extensive testing as well before hiring any candidates. This testing included knowing “verifiable attributes” of the cannabis plant, methods of consumption, and potential unpleasant effects when someone has taken too much. Moving forward with its staff, PEI Cannabis is taking the same detailed approach to adapt and prepare for the ongoing modifications that will exist in the cannabis sector. “While recognizing the regulatory changes that are anticipated to come into force in October 2019, we are currently preparing to provide new training modules on the new formats that will be available for sale (i.e. extracts, edibles, and topicals),” says Currie. “To supplement our primary training efforts, we are also partnering with suppliers to provide short in-store employee training sessions. Topics covered include the unique attributes of their products, their cultivation/processing practices, and the general history of the supplier and their brands.” PEI Cannabis is also heavily focused on employee retention, in order to keep the well-oiled machine that they have built running. “We are continuously evaluating new ways to ensure we’re always recruiting the best people, and providing them with an engaging on-boarding experience. We have also been very fortunate to have strong employee retention to-date, so our current focus is maintaining strong levels of employee engagement, product knowledge, and job satisfaction.”


Hobo Recreational Cannabis has a store in Ottawa and three stores set to open in Vancouver in the near future. They have implemented standard practices for finding and training employees which they use for all planned locations. “Candidates can come in all sorts of different varieties,” said Stuart Ryan, Director of Training and Development for Hobo. “We’re definitely not looking for one cookie-cutter image of someone to be a part of the Hobo team. We’re looking for those unique individuals who have a lot of engagement and enthusiasm for the cannabis industry.” Similar to PEI Cannabis, Hobo reaches out to their suppliers to educate the staff on their products. “One of the biggest things we’re doing is leaning on our licensed producer (LP) partners to have them come into the store and facilitate their own training about their brand-specific products. We’ve had multiple LPs come in both on the East Coast and West Coast. Every single brand is so different that by having them come in and present to the staff, it gives them the ammunition and credentials to be able to reiterate that and convey the message [to the customers].” Ryan added that Hobo is developing a learning management system (LMS) program for its employees as well, in order to encourage as much study as possible for employees. He explains, “The staff can cater to their own education and really take ownership of what they’re learning.” An added perk that comes along with a position at Hobo is the implementation of shared experiences outside the store. “We do culture trips with our staff,” said Ryan. “We take them around the city showing them things that we love about [it], and showing them a good time. It’s not all about coming to work and just working for 8 hours, sometimes it’s great to take a couple of hours and go and have a brewery tour to see how a local beer is made, or introduce ourselves to the neighbours, or give back to the community by doing an afternoon where we go out and, maybe, pick up garbage.” As the Canadian cannabis industry continues to emerge both domestically and on the world stage, so too will training practices that reflect the growing needs of customers. Considering that Canada is the world’s first G7 country to legalize recreational cannabis, it’s a fair assumption that these practices will be adopted by other countries that choose to do the same. SOURCE: