Pawel Krempasky is unsure what his college major should be, but the 19-year-old student already has career aspirations — in cannabis.
“I’ve been thinking about it ever since starting school,” Krempasky said. “But I don’t know how my parents will take it.”
Krempasky, of Glenview, Ill., was one of about 400 people from throughout the Chicago area who attended a job fair at the college Wednesday hosted by the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois, an organization representing the state’s cultivation centers and dispensaries.
With recreational marijuana sales set to begin Jan. 1 in Illinois, the nascent industry is readying for what’s predicted to be strong consumer demand. Growing facilities are expanding, and companies need to hire people to staff those locations as well as stores. Some 5,800 people already work in the industry in Illinois and within a year, employment could swell to more than 13,500 jobs, according to New Frontier Data, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that provides analysis and figures for the cannabis industry.
The job fair took place the same day that Chicago’s first recreational marijuana store was approved by the state and a Chicago alderman moved to delay product sales in the city until July 1.
Job seekers ran the gamut. Some were like Krempasky, who is interested in becoming a budtender, a person who helps customers pick the right product, but he was unsure of the qualifications necessary.
Laurel Jones, 21, of Waukegan, Ill., said she applied to a couple dispensaries before the event, but hopes to land a position serving medical marijuana patients.
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“I really just want to be a budtender ... for medicinal purposes. Patients come in asking for specific stuff like they aren’t sleeping well or their joints hurts. And it’s so nice that budtenders are able to help people,” Jones said.
Employers at the event included Cresco Labs, Green Thumb Industries and MedMen Enterprises. Job seekers crowded the Cresco Labs table, waiting about an hour to speak with a company representative.
Hiring the right people and training are particularly important in marijuana retailing because more than 85% of consumer decisions are influenced by the budtender, Beau Whitney, author of the New Frontier Data report, said in email.
“We are always looking for people with retail experience,” said Don Williams, MedMen’s Midwest regional director of government affairs. “We are looking to add 50 to 60 retail associates at our locations to help with the rush of customers who come in asking questions about the right marijuana product for them.”
MedMen’s budtender jobs pay $16 to $17 an hour, with full benefits and stock options for full-time employees, Williams said. Employees also receive discounts on various cannabis products, he said.
Standing by one table was Larry Doria, president and CEO of P4 Security Solutions, a Harwood Heights-based security firm for the cannabis industry. Doria said security will be a major component for companies as they try to get their license applications approved, and P4’s presence in the cannabis industry has grown.
“Security is important,” Doria said. “We offer entry-level jobs starting at $15 an hour working at dispensaries. It’s a great opportunity that opens the door to other jobs (in the cannabis industry).”
Colleges and universities are tapping into the industry demand by offering classes designed to prepare students for a cannabis career. Earlier this year, Oakton Community College, with two locations in the Chicago suburbs, launched a seven-course curriculum that trains students how to work with medical marijuana patients.
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Jason Reese, 59, of Arlington Heights, Ill., is one of the first 20 students who will complete the program in December.
Reese, who was laid off from a pharmaceutical industry job earlier this year, said he knows from experience how medical marijuana has helped patients. Reese has an illness that causes his knees to tremor, which he treats by taking cannabis products. Now he’s looking for a job as a patient care specialist.
“As soon as I ... saw how it benefited me, I was like ‘how can I help other people,’ “ Reese said.