How to hire the right Cultivation Team

03/29/17
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 Once you’ve composed yourself from winning a coveted cultivation license, the next major task is hiring the right production team. 

Since the cultivation of cannabis is an emerging industry, finding the right crop of people can be incredibly challenging for any hiring manager.  Uncertainty in this area can lead to poor hiring decisions that snowball into team in-fighting, delayed production, and regulatory compliance issues. To avoid all of this, consider these key areas for successfully sourcing your dream team.

Let’s start at the top, literally.

Depending on scale and budget, a typical cultivation team will resemble this hierarchy:

Note: In larger operations, the Master Grower typically reports to the Director of Operations, who oversees extracting, shipping and retailing finished product.

The Master Grower

Also known as a Head Grower, Cultivation Manager, Production Manager or Director of Cultivation, the Master Grower takes 100% responsibility for all plants in your production area. At the very least, this person should have experience in commercial horticulture in addition to hiring and leading expertise. This position is often the first hire and should offer valuable insight in the production facility design, sourcing of materials and subsequent recruitment.

As the primary member of the cultivation team, the Master Grower establishes company culture and leads by example. This person must be willing to work flexible hours as they will be your facility’s ‘first responder’ in the event of system emergencies, equipment alarms, and frequent off-hour check-ins. The ideal candidate is open to advice from subordinates and implements input into problem-solving.

The Plant Technician

Also referred to as Section Growers, Assistant Growers or Production Assistants, this person offers primary support to the Master Gower on daily production activities. Contrary to the experience required to fulfill a Master Grower position, a Plant Technician position is often entry-level and requires a person with interest, passion and potential aspirations of one-day becoming a Master Grower.

What you should look for in a Plant Technician:

1.   Ability to work flexible hours: Harvests don’t always finish at 5pm; therefore, production time may extend into evenings and weekends in order to avoid mature plants from over-ripening.

2.   Willingness to do all tasks: Much of a Plant Technician’s time is spent cleaning and sterilizing, make sure that interviewees aren’t averse to this important task. 

3.   Previous horticulture experience an asset: Although this position can be deemed entry-level, there may be many potential candidates at nurseries and farms that are unaware of the reduced risk and increased opportunity in cannabis cultivation as a career path. 

The key in hiring the right Plant Technician is to hold more than one interview. Scrutinize each candidate to ensure they fit within the desired culture of your cultivation team. As your operation grows, these Plant Technicians will be your first consideration for promoting to greater responsibility.

The Post-Harvest Manager

Once a crop has been harvested, typically there is a hand-off from the cultivation team to the post-harvest team, who are responsible for everything thereafter. As the leader of this team, the Post-Harvest Manager organizes a team of Trimmers to ensure that the harvested cannabis flower is trimmed and dried before being packaged as a whole bud or extracted for oil. In addition, this role is responsible for organizing lab testing and overseeing bulk packaging.

What you should look for in a Post-Harvest Manger:

1.   Attention to detail: This person needs to account for every leaf, seed and plant stalk that enters the trim room and monitor the temperature, humidity, airflow, spacing and timing in the drying room. 

2.   Computer savviness: Working closely with software systems that manage harvested plant inventory, this role will record and update wet plant and dried flower weights in addition to the weight of trim waste.

3.   Ability to manage people: Since trimming can be monotonous work with high turnover, the Post-Harvest Manager must react in a timely-fashion to balance absences and potential resignations to avoid falling behind on processing harvested plants. 

Along with the previous two positions, it’s worth the time to scrutinize the hiring of the Post-Harvest Manager to ensure that this person is detail-oriented. As the one responsible for overseeing conditions of harvested plants, even the smallest change in a processing room’s atmosphere can ruin the previous four months spent in the production cycle.

Trimmers

Efficient cultivation plans prepare to harvest on a weekly-basis and, whether or not trimming machines are involved, Trimmers remain an important part of this process. Improperly manicured cannabis can lead to poor presentation at dispensaries creating unsatisfied customers and the potential added expense of re-trimming product. 

What you should look for in a Trimmer: 

1.   High level of focus: Responsible for watching for imperfections, this role trims seeds, male flowers, mold and insects out of the finished product to meet quality assurance standards.
 

2.   Spatial awareness: Potentially working within confined spaces and around trimming machines, Trimmers must be aware of and respect safety hazards of their work environment to avoid potential injury.
 

3.   High level of discipline: Not only in regard to following rules, SOPs and direction, discipline should also relate to this person’s ability with scissors.

In the interview process, don’t be afraid to request that a potential candidate cut something while being timed. Although this may seem like a strange request, this will give you some insight into how they might perform within this role. Specifically, pay close attention the next time you get your hair cut, this person might be your perfect fit! 

System Control Specialist

If growers are your plant geeks, then a System Control Specialist is your tech geek. This position will handle everything related to technology and equipment within the production facility, allowing your grow team to focus on what they do best: growing. Within the role, this person will be responsible for troubleshooting and tech support in addition to hardware installations, updates, and repairs. 

What you should look for in a System Control Specialist:

1.   Ability to problem solve: In order to combat any potential threats to production time, this person must be a capable problem solver.
 

2.   Passion for and proficiency in technology: An obvious need, however, this is even more vital as this will likely be the sole person responsible for implementing and maintaining a system that tracks critical environmental parameters, vital for producing and processing the finished product.
 

3.   Exceptional time management: This person will inevitably be required to troubleshoot problems for both harvest and post-harvest teams at the most inconvenient times.


This role will be responsible for both inventory and environment control systems. The former, often known as a ‘seed-to-sale’ tracking system, follows the plant from the production cycle to the sales process. The latter, monitoring and controlling all aspects of the production environment including lights, dehumidifiers, CO2, cooling, irrigation and fertilizing. Within the interview process, it may be worthwhile to probe your candidate’s familiarity with managing interdependent systems.

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Hiring can be a daunting task for any start-up; however, this is especially true within a cannabis industry that is still in its infancy. As a result, don’t be afraid of inexperience, in fact, embrace it where necessary. Having a team of experienced marijuana growers can result in combating ideologies and methodologies. Therefore, if you’ve recruited the right Master Grower, an enthusiastic and energetic team that lack industry-specific experience can be molded to successfully fit within your production plan.