New consortium of colleges aims to help Canada’s cannabis industry

Mark Lowey
November 6, 2019

Five Canadian colleges and a national advocacy body have created a new consortium to help grow Canada’s cannabis industry.

The mandate of the Canadian College Consortium for Cannabis is to work collaboratively on furthering shared strategic goals in the cannabis sector. “The overall intent is to help move the industry forward,” Brad Arkison, consortium chair and director of continuing education and partner solutions at NorQuest College, told RE$EARCH MONEY.

“There are two ways we think we can do that: providing a pipeline of skilled employees through training, and helping to drive innovation through a combined effort on applied research,” he says.

Along with Colleges and Institutes Canada, the national voice of Canada’s publicly supported colleges, the consortium’s partners are: NorQuest College in Edmonton; Niagara College; Durham College in Oshawa; Okanagan College in Kelowna; and Collège Communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick.

“Our intent is to have an organization that’s nationwide, not to have it focused or localized in any particular region, and to have opportunities for equal participation from all the members,” Arkison says.

The consortium’s founding partners don’t include any cannabis companies. However, each of the partner colleges has cannabis-related programming, industry partnerships and advisory committees to identify need and professionalize training and education available to employers and learners.

Durham College, for example, unrolled its “Cannabis Industry Specialization” program last fall. The program is part of a partnership between the college and nearby GrowWise Health Ltd., and the health and education subsidiary of licensed cannabis producer Emblem Corp. This June, Canada’s first class in commercial cannabis production graduated from Niagara College.

The Canadian College Consortium for Cannabis will focus on four key activities:

[rs_quote credit="Marian Gayed" source="vice-president of business development, NorQuest College"]Creating this consortium is a great example of how post-secondary institutions from across Canada can join forces and leverage coordinated efforts to solve problems and drive education and innovation in the economy.[/rs_quote]

  • compiling a comprehensive picture of the cannabis market, including labour force demands;
  • co-developing courses and programs, including opportunities for certification or credentialing;
  • establishing a cluster of subject matter experts from across Canada; and
  • pursuing research and grant funding to support development of cannabis-related programming, applied research and innovation.

Workforce training will focus both on individuals looking to begin a career as well as people with existing skills who are looking to re-skill or up-skill. For example, an accountant who worked in the oil and gas industry, which is currently in a downturn, might be looking to transition to the cannabis industry, Arkison says.

“Creating this consortium is a great example of how post-secondary institutions from across Canada can join forces and leverage coordinated efforts to solve problems and drive education and innovation in the economy,” Marian Gayed, vice-president of business development at NorQuest, said in a statement.

Fast-growing industry creates challenges

Employment in Canada’s cannabis industry has nearly quadrupled since the federal government legalized cannabis in October 2018, while the number of companies in the space has more than doubled to 175, according to the latest Statistics Canada data.

As of April 2019, there were 9,200 people working in Canada’s cannabis industry, according to StatsCan’s “snapshot” of federally licensed cannabis producers. That’s up from 2,630 in the fiscal year 2018 and 1,438 in fiscal 2017.

Of people employed in the cannabis industry, 60% worked on cultivation, harvesting, processing, manufacturing and administration duties, StatsCan says. Another 20% were identified to work in packaging, marketing and sales. The remainder worked on quality assurance, R&D, security, engineering and general maintenance activities.

The cannabis industry’s high labour demand is worsening a problem for Canada’s commercial greenhouse vegetable and flower growers who have been grappling with a tight labour supply, especially in middle management, according to a fact sheet from the Canadian Agriculture Human Resource Council.

The cannabis industry’s total assets rose to $4.2 billion as of April 2019, almost double the $2.5 billion in the fiscal year 2018, StatsCan says. Investment spending increased to $233 million in fiscal 2018, up from $46 million in the prior fiscal year.

With such rapid growth, the industry is facing challenges on the employee pipeline side of the equation and also on the innovation component, Arkison says. “We really do see the opportunity to help support the industry.”

Denise Amyot, president and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada, said in an op-ed piece published last year by the Canadian Science Policy Centre that cannabis industry players working with Canada’s colleges include Sundial, Terra Life Sciences, Canopy Growth Corp., MedReleaf Corp., GrowWise Health Ltd., Emblem Corp., and Zenabis.

Collaborative R&D targeted

The new consortium also is looking for collaborative opportunities in applied research and innovation, Arkison says. For example, with edible cannabis products legally for sale starting in mid-December, R&D is needed on products formulation, extraction techniques and other aspects.

The consortium’s activities will be initially funded by its founding partners, Arkison says. “Moving forward, I think we’ll be looking for opportunities for sponsorship, whether it’s through industry or external funding sources.”

Arkison will chair the consortium for two years on behalf of NorQuest College, and then the chair position will rotate among the partner institutions. He says the consortium plans to create an advisory group that includes representatives from licensed cannabis producers, retail companies and some associated industries, as well as experts who understand the regulatory environment.

The consortium will look for opportunities in the future to bring in new institutions and partners, Arkison says. “For the immediate short term, we want to work together as a group and figure out how we can efficiently move forward and start to drive our agenda, and get some immediate traction on the activities we want to tackle.”


Other Canadian colleges and universities working in the cannabis space:
In January 2020, McGill University in Montreal will offer a graduate diploma on cannabis production, open only to students with botany backgrounds or Bachelor’s degrees in related fields.
Loyalist College in Bellville, Ontario, has a cannabis applied science program that focuses on “green” extraction technologies.
The University of Ottawa offers courses focused on cannabis law.
Boreal College in Toronto has a cannabis production technician program.
Ryerson University in Toronto has “The Business of Cannabis” course.
Olds College in southern Alberta offers students a combination of online courses and a two-week job placement as part of its cannabis production program.
Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver offers a “Retail Cannabis Consultant” certificate program.
Camosun College in Victoria, B.C. has a course in growing cannabis for professionals.
College of the Rockies in Cranbrook, B.C. offers a cannabis retail specialist program combining science and customer service.
New Brunswick Community College’s 12-week program prepares students to work as medical cannabis cultivation technicians.
Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, has a partnership with nearby THC Dispensaries Canada Inc., a licensed medical marijuana producer, which allows students access to on-the-job training in a 7,000-square-foot growing facility.


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