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HIGHLIGHTS
  1. Five Spiritleaf pot stores open within seven days after AGLC lifts licence freeze
  2. Hiring managers see competition from other stores after licence moratorium was lifted
  3. Inner Spirit offers ski passes, accommodation deals to recruit in Jasper

Alberta cannabis shops are in the midst of a hiring frenzy after the provincial regulator lifted its retail licence freeze, placing more than 100 stores on track to open by autumn.

For Inner Spirit Holdings Ltd., which owns the Spiritleaf brand franchise and operates several of its own corporate outlets, this means opening five stores within seven days around the Canada Day long weekend. These openings followed weeks of interviewing potential employees, at roughly five interviews each day.

Darren Bondar (second from right), CEO of Inner Spirit Holdings, attends the grand opening of a Spiritleaf store in Calgary’s Beltline location on June 26, 2019

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And this is no small feat for its Human Resources department. The brand, which now has stores open in four provinces, just hired roughly 50 employees over the past three weeks in order to staff the five new stores in Alberta and British Columbia. If all goes well – and recreational pot supplies continue to increase, and Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) maintains its trajectory of granting up to 10 retail licences weekly – Inner Spirit expects to open another 20 stores in the province by the end of 2019. By then, the Calgary-based business expects to hire another 200 employees to staff the new venues.

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“People really want to work in the cannabis industry,” said Darren Bondar, CEO of Inner Spirit, adding that the company is paying above minimum wage and offering retention bonuses.

Inner Spirit’s national Human Resources manager Debbie Jager said that every time the company posts jobs, it receives “hundreds” of resumes.

“It’s a hiring frenzy for sure. With the five stores, it’s just been heads down,” Ms. Jager said.

The company received around 200 applications within the first 48 hours of the first job posting for sales and concierge positions in the most recent wave since AGLC lifted its licence freeze, she said.

“We have a whole bunch more in the queue and waiting. What we have been encountering since the AGLC lifted the licensing process is everyone is looking to hire, so there is competition,” Ms. Jager said, adding that she would not be surprised to start seeing a “bidding war” for some employees as companies seek workers with retail or serving experience.

“We’re racing against each other to get the best of the best. That’s been challenging.”

And while Inner Spirit believes the company is offering wages slightly above those of other stores plus providing benefits, it has had to up the incentives in Jasper, Alta., a tourist town where a store is slated to open by mid-July. To attract experienced employees, the company is offering ski passes and accommodation deals.

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Trevor Hammer, director of Human Resources for retailer YSS Corp. in Calgary, started recruiting after AGLC resumed issuing retail licences again. The company has six retail applications in the queue and needs to hire around 60 people by August, but is being “a little cautious” as AGLC warned it could possibly suspend licences again if legal pot supplies thin out again.

AGLC placed a pseudo-moratorium on retail licences in November, when national cannabis supplies were too small to keep shelves stocked in stores that were already open. The freeze was lifted in late-May.

“My worry is it’s going to get really competitive out there with all the licences that are going to come out. People may start offering signing bonuses,” Mr. Hammer said.

Still, 140 people applied for a single manager position, while each store is seeing around 200 resumes for sales positions, he said.

“I’m seeing people from CEO levels to dishwashers. I’ll be to the walls hiring,” Mr. Hammer said, adding that many applicants are overqualified.

It is not a surprise that so many highly qualified people are looking to enter the cannabis industry in Alberta, which is still struggling economically from the weakened energy sector. On the other hand, Alberta has by far the most pot shop licences in the country due to privatization at more than 135.

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Human resource adviser ECL Group of Companies has seen increased business from the cannabis industry, which has boomed since recreational pot was legalized in Canada in late-2018.

“It’s not a cake walk and it’s not for the faint of heart. With the explosive growth and starting from zero, there is a tremendous amount of flexibility required and a high tolerance level for stress and rapid change,” said Scott Stoppler, president and CEO of ECL Group in Edmonton.

“In general terms, the cannabis companies are thinking outside the box. They can’t go by the old adage that we want to go with someone with 10 years cannabis experience. They’re having to go to industries that would have similar types of pace and hire candidates that have transferable skills.”

Mr. Stoppler said he expects strong hiring demand to continue for some time to come in cannabis, though “you just never quite know what tomorrow’s going to bring.”

“It’s the fastest growing sector of all the industries we serve,” he said.

“It’s not about how many resumes you can get. It’s about how we find the right candidate as quickly as possible.”

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