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Cultivating a Career in the Cannabis Industry

Written by Brittany Umer

The Canadian cannabis industry has grown exponentially since the legalization of recreational marijuana in 20181. Alberta, in particular, has seen a rise in opportunities in this field, in large part due to the 800 000 square-foot Aurora Sky cannabis production facility built by Edmonton-based Aurora Cannabis2. To give trainees an opportunity to learn about this growing field, on February 12, 2020, the Edmonton chapter of the Science to Business Network had the pleasure of hosting four professionals from Aurora Cannabis to discuss “Cultivating a Career in the Cannabis Industry”. The topics of conversation discussed with our panellists were broad, ranging from educational backgrounds and experience, areas of scientific research and development, and breaking into the cannabis industry.

Our panelists kicked off discussions by telling the audience a little bit about themselves, including their educational background, professional experience, and their current roles at Aurora:

When asked what kinds of skills, education and experience are looked As our panellists emphasized, the cannabis industry in Canada is still comparatively small, and attending conferences or other industry events will get you noticed. Take an active interest in what is happening and changing in the cannabis industry. Asking questions and becoming involved is the first step towards breaking into this budding field. Events organized by the Alberta Cannabis Council, GreenSpark, or Women Grow Events in Vancouver are all organizations to look into for networking opportunities. Blake also suggested becoming involved in standards development as a way of entering the industry. ASTM International (formerly known as the American Society of Testing and Materials)

Annaliese Kibler, MSc, Director of Regulatory Affairs- With a background in plant science, Annaliese Kibler started off in quality assurance before moving into regulatory affairs. In her daily role, she regularly liaises with many different departments in Aurora, such as the science department, operations, legal affairs, and business development, as these all interact directly with regulatory affairs in some capacity.

Tyler Kibler, Director of Industrial Design- Having a background in mechanical engineering, Tyler designed and patented the first Health Canada approved cannabis oil vaporizer. In his current role as the Director of Industrial design, he looks at things such as cost reduction and viable new product development, however, his role is always changing and adapting to new market needs.

Blake Power, BSc, Senior Project Manager, Industrial Design- Having a BSc in chemistry, Blake previously worked in the pharmaceuticals area, specializing in compounding and automation for blister packs and vending. After working briefly as a contractor in the cannabis field, Blake joined Aurora on their industrial design team where he now interacts with various stakeholders to bring about standards creation in the cultivation and processing of cannabis.

Isaac Greenwood, Senior Product Manager, SKU Team- With an education in finance and risk management and having spent over 10 years as an insurance broker, Isaac was first introduced to the cannabis field after developing an insurance package for medicinal cannabis users. As a senior product manager at Aurora, he now helps to launch new products, spanning the entire process from ideation to production, to market.

On the topic of active areas of research within the cannabis realm, our panellists identified plant genetics, disease risk-management and agricultural growth characteristics for breeding as up-and-coming areas of study. Of particular interest is narrowing down the different active compounds and investigating their related metabolic pathways. Another active area of research in the cannabis space is the interplay of different compounds found in the cannabis plant, also known as the “entourage effect”, and how these components synergize with one another. The ability to conduct research on cannabis in Canada opens up a wide range of scientific areas for further study, and Canada is at the forefront of scientific discovery in this field.

When asked what kinds of skills, education and experience are looked for when hiring in the cannabis field, the answer was not clear-cut. As can be seen from the diversity of backgrounds of our panelists, employment in the cannabis realm can stem from a variety of experiences. Speaking particularly to scientific training, over 40 MSc and PhDs work at the Company, with areas of education ranging from plant sciences to biology, chemistry and engineering. As scientists, we have the technical capacity to contribute to the field, however, we need to assess what the industry needs and be able to communicate this. What is critically important is bringing passion, ingenuity and agility to the table. Another quality that is valued is a willingness to expand horizons and try new things. Again, reiterating the novelty of the industry, the landscape is constantly changing, and individuals need to be able to adapt to keep up with changing needs and regulations. However, there are certain competencies that are particularly advantageous. For instance, as Tyler Kibler discussed, attention to detail is key, as small mistakes can have large consequences in such a tightly regulated field. Having quality assurance knowledge can also be an asset, as this can typically be a training gap for science graduates.

If you are looking to enter the industry, networking is crucial! As our panelists emphasized, the cannabis industry in Canada is still comparatively small, and attending conferences or other industry events will get you noticed. Take an active interest in what is happening and changing in the cannabis industry. Asking questions and becoming involved is the first step towards breaking into this budding field. Events organized by the Alberta Cannabis Council, GreenSpark, or Women Grow Events in Vancouver are all organizations to look into for networking opportunities. Blake also suggested becoming involved in standards development as a way of entering the industry. ASTM International (formerly known as the American Society of Testing and Materials) Committee D37 on Cannabis develops standards for cannabis, its products and processes. Membership is open to anyone who is interested, and members can participate in the development of standards for the industry.

What became clear throughout the discussion is that the cannabis industry is broad, diverse, and, due to its infancy, mostly unchartered territory. While this means that those looking to enter the cannabis sector have to maintain the adaptability to flourish in an ever-changing industry, it also means that the field itself provides unrivalled opportunities for both growth and development.

For those wishing to learn more about the event and other possibilities for stepping into the cannabis industry, please contact yegs2bn@ualberta.ca. Follow us on twitter (@S2BNetwork) for more information for upcoming events and opportunities.

References:

1. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-medication/cannabis/research-data/market/dried.html

2. https://globalnews.ca/news/4007818/aurora-cannabis-edmonton-headquarters-marijuana/








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