By Kristine Owram
It was midsummer, less than three months before Canada legalized recreational marijuana, and Vic Neufeld had a problem.
The chief executive officer of Aphria Inc. had just hired 50 people to work in the pot producer’s greenhouse in Leamington, Ontario, and by the end of the first week all but eight had quit.
“Those are really hot, humid months and working in a greenhouse, as much cooling and airflow as we can provide, is still pretty darn hot in July and August,” Neufeld said in a phone interview.
A lack of qualified local labor forced Aphria to dispose of almost 14,000 cannabis plants in the quarter ended Aug. 31 after they weren’t harvested in time, costing it nearly $1 million Canadian. Since then, the company has doubled the staff at its Aphria One greenhouse thanks in part to Canada’s Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program, which has allowed it to hire about 50 temporary workers from the Caribbean and Guatemala with plans to bring in up to 100 more.
Aphria’s experience underscores the swelling demand for labor in Canada’s 5-year-old cannabis sector, where openings have tripled in the past year to 34 out of every 10,000 job postings, according to employment search engine Indeed.com.
Canada’s licensed producers employed about 2,400 workers at the end of 2017, according to Statistics Canada, and BMO Capital Markets estimated that industry employment was around 3,500 people when legalization took effect in mid-October.