Podcast The Hemp Revolution

Booming Career Opportunities in the Cannabis Industry with Andrew Freeman

ep 61 Andrew Freeman

Andrew Freeman is a focused and detail-oriented Senior Recruiter with experience in cannabis executive recruiting. He has strong experience in sourcing and screening technical professionals to fulfill his client’s needs. 

In addition, he has placed scientists in operations management and research roles for legal cannabis companies everywhere it is legal. This includes extraction lab managers, formulations specialists, research scientists, greenhouse operations managers, horticulturalists, and facility managers.

In this episode, find out how important it is to have a rockstar team that can help you solve the problems that you currently have in your cannabis and business. Learn as Andrew shares how Vangst helped thousands of companies and can make HR significantly easier, cheaper for you by outsourcing.

There’s a lot of folks outside the industry that can do a great job in cannabis and hemp, but I think the real secret is they need to collaborate with folks from within the industry too, because they understand the products, the culture, do understand what consumers are really. – Andrew Freeman

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Some Topics We Discussed Include

2:32 – Recruiting in the cannabis industry
6:17 – How to get in the cannabis corporate world?
9:03 – Estimate compensation from hemp and cannabis experts
10:45 – Getting ready to be hired
12:24 – Most in-demand position
14:16 – What’s in it for a director of extraction and managerial roles?
19:31 – Challenges and staffing strategy
23:44 – words of wisdom
28:06 – Where to find them

People Mentioned / Resources

Connect with Andrew Freeman

Connect with Sonia Gomez


Sonia Gomez:  What’s up guys! Sonia Gomez coming to you live from MJBizCon in Las Vegas, Nevada where we are sharing and telling the stories through The Hemp Revolution podcast of the entrepreneurs who are pushing this incredible industry forward. If you are somebody who is looking for solutions in your business you are in the right place with The Hemp Revolution. We are here with some incredible guests, one of which you will meet here in just a moment. 

Mr. Andrew Freeman is heading up operations out and is highly experienced as a recruiter in the cannabis and hemp industry working nationally across the US. He is specializing mainly in cultivation, extraction and operation rules for the cannabis and hemp industry. Now why is this important for you? Well, for those of you guys who were in business how important it is to have a rockstar team who can help you solve the problems that you currently have in your business. You cannot grow, you cannot scale unless you have the right team in the right places at the right time to solve those intricate problems that could be popping up in this ever-changing landscape that is a part of the cannabis industry. 

So I’m super excited to introduce him to you let us know what your burning questions are. And if you love– when you like and share content just like this, you are helping us to transform the way that people think about and talk about cannabis and hemp movement around the world. So without further ado, put your hands together and help me welcome Mr. Andrew Freeman. How are you doing Andrew?

Andrew Freeman: Good, how are you? 

Sonia Gomez: I’m so good. I’m really excited to have you here. And more excited to find out how with all of your amazing skill sets did you end up working with banks and the cannabis [inaudible]

Recruiting in the Cannabis Industry

Andrew Freeman: Such an interesting story. So my boss Karson Humiston, founded Vangst in 2015, and at the time was actually called Graduana and it was meant to be for college graduates getting into the industry. Pretty quickly she came to trade shows like MJ peers and everyone saying I have a million college graduates want to get into the cannabis industry right now? I need an accountant. I need a chemical engineer. I need a CFO, I need someone who’s highly specialized handable, reliable, who can help me grow my business. So to change the name to banks, and started the business out in Denver, she brought me on about a year after the business started, I actually just kind of recruiter in the IT industry. 

She brought me on board and very quickly gained an affinity for cultivation, extraction, operations roles. One of the reasons being that the talent in the Colorado market was really really strong and still is and the entire western US one of the reasons being is that the industry got started at your earlier so there’s folks that have run commercial-scale labs, commercial-scale growth facilities out here that have really proven experience and have a lot of experience with cannabis and hemp, which is a very unique plants. 

It’s tougher to work with. And so we really started coming to a lot of different trade shows out of the Western US and getting a lot of traction with the companies and what a lot of what I did is work in new markets. So places like the Midwest and Northeast, California is going through a major change with their regulations. And they needed much more qualified experienced staff. So a lot of times we’re relocating growers, extractors, operations professionals from other from more mature markets into newer markets. So someone that knows how to actually set up and run a crow, that’s 50,000 square feet. Now, if you’re running a really small grow as a black-market grower 50 plants in your garage or basement or something like that, chances are you’re not quite ready to take on a really large scale facility. 

Sonia Gomez: But if you were a big dog in the black market come on in!

Andrew Freeman: A lot of those folks have had a lot of contributions to the industry. And I’ve really found that a lot of them when they come in, they have a lot of knowledge are plant they’ve I mean some of the best, truly the best products out there. So on the black market, sad to say, but when you’re trying to scale something, you’re always gonna have issues for quality. Well, there’s folks out there that know how to grow at large scale quality, high-quality control professionals. 

There’s lab professionals that can work with these guys who are very passionate, very knowledgeable about the industry, we found bringing in folks from outside the industry is a big part of what we do. And they’ve been really qualified, really smart people that can work with these growers, these inspectors, help them take this really high-quality product that they have, or how to scale it. So when they’re running 25,000 plants or something like that, and they’re trying to do a significant amount of like edibles, production, something like that– 

Sonia Gomez: Anything its scale.

Andrew Freeman: Yeah, absolutely! And as the regulations for getting more and more stringent things like FDA, finance, ISO, compliance, these are big things that folks that are in the industry may not know, but finding folks from outside the industry is a big part of what we do, and it’s been really really successful. And you know, I do operations for patient attraction roles, but we do finance, HR marketing sales, tail it engineering, we can really do everything. There’s a lot of folks outside the industry that can do a great job in cannabis and hemp, but I think the real secret is that they need to collaborate with folks from within the industry too, because they understand the products, the culture, do understand what consumers are really.

Sonia Gomez:  So I have almost a million followers online. And most of the people who are following me are what I would call old school, tennis sores, they’re been part of this industry for a long time, inadvertently. And they want to be able to apply their knowledge and their expertise and their skill sets to this industry. Now, they have also simultaneously been working mainstream or otherwise considered corporate positions. So they’re highly skilled and are not quite sure how they can support the emerging markets across the country because they’re globally located. But how the big question I get asked all the time is, how can I get into this space? 

What can I expect or ask for when it comes to compensation for my skill sets, what kind of job, requirements are out there right now if I want to get in, can you speak to let’s say the five or the three most highly sought after position? Like, where are the holes in the industry right now? Where– I suppose it depends on the marketplace. But where are the holes in the industry right now that need to be filled by skilled, passionate people, and what kind of compensation and job descriptions are we seeing in those divisions?

How to Get in the Cannabis Corporate World

Andrew Freeman: That’s a great question. I would say one of the number one positions I work, it’s definitely still one of the most sought after positions is director of cultivation. Someone that is highly skilled with cultivation and understands the cannabis plant very well. And someone who needs to also be very organized, going to run a business and facility properly. I work with a lot of folks that have brought in folks from the black market that don’t really understand much better manage a team and facility manager budget are used to working underground on their own. I’d say it’s really important to be able to collaborate and manage other people. Yeah, and definitely come in–

Career Opportunities in Cannabis

Sonia Gomez: So scale is not enough. You also have to have that management and team and an attitude of a leader.

Andrew Freeman: Yeah, absolutely. And I think a lot of folks that have been doing on the black market really low key type situation and they’re working a corporate job or they’ve been holding down another type of job, hey have bring a lot to the table as far as work ethic management skills. So a lot of that can be applied to cannabis and but you need to also be able to come in with an open mind as far as knowing what you don’t know. And working with folks that do know those things, be willing to collaborate with them. If you have the knowledge, which a lot of folks do, they have specific knowledge that’s they call their IP their, their value that they add to the company. They need to make sure– to be willing to share that with other folks you’re willing to collaborate with someone it could be extremely useful, beneficial relationship.

So a lot of that can be applied to cannabis but you need to also be able to come in with an open mind as far as knowing what you don't know. - Andrew Freeman Click To Tweet

Sonia Gomez: And this is probably the position that I get the most questions about because they’re like, yo, yo, we’re doing all this stuff and underground, but they want to come into the light and I’m like, okay, cool, you know, definitely have to have those qualifiers that you were talking about because this is not the cannabis industry of the year, early 2000s. This is the cannabis industry moving into the next moment like we are the next generation of cannabis. [inaudible] source. 

Now, this is we’re moving into 2020 y’all need to step at it. So what is the compensation of a lot? Let’s be honest, the people in the black market are used to getting anywhere from 2000 to $3,000 per pound, and that’s cash in their pocket. They’re not running, spreadsheets and all this stuff tracking their cash. So I think there’s an unrealistic expectation around their compensation when they want to bring their knowledge and skillsets into this industry be able to achieve relevancy, once again, supporting a brand or business growing, but are not sure what is customary or what they can expect as far as compensation, what how are you seeing those deals get put together on behalf of cultivators right now.

Estimate Compensation from Hemp and Cannabis Experts

Andrew Freeman: So I would say the typical range, I’m going to give you a kind of a big range anywhere in this 1600 and 28,000 range for a typical director cultivation at the higher level, you know, beyond what 20 typically it’s folks that have already been in the industry have a lot of proven experience. The one thing with folks coming in from the black market is they don’t really have the proven experience in the mainstream industry yet–

Sonia Gomez: Yeah and the things that you have to prove in the mainstream industry or your ability to comply. You’re clean, you track. You can run a team. What are some other key qualifiers or did I cover them?

Getting Ready to Be Hired

Andrew Freeman: Those I mean, those are definitely some of the big ones definitely. And I’d say being able to manage a team manager budget facility, my recommendation for a lot of folks that have been, like black market cultivators, unfortunately need to get in at the lower level you can get hired as a trimmer pretty easily, and get hired as a cultivation tax. So you’re working within the facility, you’re learning the ropes off the stream, on a regulated mainstream industry, from the ground up. 

And I’ve seen folks that are really talented black market growers, who started as a trimmer and then they’re within two months or a cultivation assistant grower and then gradually, within a year, their director of cultivation say, well, how did that happen? I don’t have a year of experience at all. I really have 23 years of experience, but it’s like it took me some time to really learn how to do it, legal industry. 

So again, coming in with the right attitude, don’t come in saying how they’re doing it all wrong and not realizing that you have to do some things differently, especially if you’re collaborating with a large number people facility, you might be able to control every last detail in your small black market grow. It’s tougher in a bigger facility so being able to collaborate with other people is really, really important. Definitely, so I’d say you’re coming in with the right attitude, coming in from the entry-level position, if you have the right attitude, the right skill set to do what you say you can do, you’re gonna move up very, very quickly.

Career Opportunities in Cannabis

Sonia Gomez: Okay, so moving past the cultivators, I’m so happy we’re having this conversation because it’s answering so many of the questions that have been bombarding me much of my career with The Hemp Revolution podcast, I’m flooded with these kinds of questions. What are two other positions that are highly sought after right now?

Most in Demand Position

Andrew Freeman: So I’d say the other really, really big one is director of extraction, or director of processing. Which is a pretty broad title. And it’s, I think it’s really going to be the future straight so many of the products our cannabis, it’s not actually flower. So that type of role in a lot of cases requires folks with a college degree science or engineer, chemists, chemical engineers, and a lot of cases, people now are looking for folks that have come from mainstream industries like oil, natural gas, pharma.

Sonia Gomez: My God, how much of that?

Andrew Freeman: Yeah, those folks are coming in, they can apply a lot of the principles that they learned or they’ve been taught in other industries to cannabis. And again, those folks who come in at the high level need to come in with an open mind and understand learn and understand the products, the culture that’s really, really important. Coming in and just applying what you know, is great, or just trying to do it the way that pharma does it isn’t going to work, it’s not quite like any of those industries–

Sonia Gomez: We’re our own culture, our own people our product.

We're our own culture, our own people our product. - Sonia Gomez Click To Tweet

Andrew Freeman: Yeah, absolutely. And again, that’s where typically things come in with a lot of groups that have, they know how to extract the know-how to create concentrates, but as they’re scaling up is they’re running a much more professional lab facility that’s also under a lot of scrutiny because of the clients, I might need someone who has an engineering degree or his work– certified really wants like a fire hose. Things like that–

Sonia Gomez: Okay. And then the final visit– what can a head of extraction expect?

What’s in It for a Director of Extraction and Managerial Roles?

Andrew Freeman: So that’s a pretty lucrative role [inaudible] the lab manager below the director $75k. Most directors, the right base is at $80k [inaudible] as high as $175,000 a month. And at that higher level of money startups, they’re more willing if you’re really good offering equity, rather than salary. If you’re willing to sacrifice and salary change halfway with a long term payout, throw up the build, so when it sells or equity best, you can make a much bigger chaotic good [inaudible] so that’s it’s a really, really lucrative position, again, on a high end, typically folks that are experienced already but also sometimes have like a masters or Ph.D. or have you know, pretty, pretty solid career in another industry.

Sonia Gomez: Okay, and then the final hole in the industry that you guys can fill right now. 

Andrew Freeman: The Director of Operations or VP of Operations. I see you know, offices can be very loosely defined. Cultivation, it’s a plant-focused seed to harvest, extraction is post-harvest through to full sale or finished goods then they go to edibles or to the dispensary. Operations are, where they can be involved with every part of the operation or their job is really just to let these other people cultivator and extractor. do their job makes it easier for them to do their job support them? So a lot of motivators, managerial skills, dealing with compliance dealing with engineering and maintenance. Certainly working with a sales team. So you like demand planning, make sure certainly product development as well sure the products are growing or attracting are good quality and actually ops is such a difficult job. I think it requires much effort and energy. We have a lot of really good details as well. It’s huge. 

And I’d say the biggest name with folks inside the industry I’ve seen that have been doing it at commercial scale, Colorado and elsewhere, is they understand the products consumers really well understand really well how to interact with extractors. So I placed a lot of individuals like that and other states that can really help build out major companies, so they don’t have to do so much guesswork, early stages. And so that’s a really, really popular role. We also place folks from outside the industry and high-level operations roles in the industry. A pretty common complaint new team of folks that don’t work out or not doing as well as expected is that are willing to get their hands dirty. They’re too high level, they used to delegate everything. And as part of this, because they’re at bigger companies, they have staff under them that understands their industry really well. 

So there’s certain things that don’t need to be learned or explained. When you’re coming in at a high level when you don’t know the industry, you need to know how to manage and support groups under you, but at the same time, you’re learning everything.

When you're coming in at a high level when you don't know the industry, you need to know how to manage and support groups under you, but at the same time, you're learning everything. - Andrew Freeman Click To Tweet

Sonia Gomez: Grab some chopsticks and throw that shit in a jar if we need to.

Andrew Freeman: Yeah, absolutely. And some–

Sonia Gomez: Operations for a cannabis company for a while and like, while I’m organizing folders for compliance and writing license stuff, and like, you know, training staff, I’m like, Oh, ding time to go and fill a bottle really quick. Like, sometimes that’s just what it takes is your willingness to be to play a diverse role and set a good example for a team.

Andrew Freeman: Yeah, absolutely. And I’ve sometimes be like underappreciated or overworked role, but if you’re really good at it, it certainly is lucrative–

Sonia Gomez: And it’s super rewarding, too, because it’s the sort of the glue that starts to pull the company together and create a culture that the company can represent effectively and attract more higher-level talent. I think I think it’s so so key to have a great person in that managerial role. And I talked to so many women who have done like, women specifically, I think this is such a great role for them because they’ve done HR for things or they’ve customer service for banks are these giant institutions. 

And then they’re like, well, how can I apply my skill sets here and they thrive in that managerial role even though they’ve only ever been considered a peon, you know, customer service person for a Wells Fargo, you move them into this higher level position and you just see their skill sets and their natural tendencies to care flourish. So incredible to put them in those power positions? What are managerial roles getting in the industry right now as far as compensation?

Andrew Freeman: Typically for you know, a midsize company might be $100-$125k range. Bigger company, especially like a multi-state operator, we might be seeing multiple locations in different states could be $150 to $200 range here at the C suite, so like a COO, well, typically it’s $200,000 plus, they’re typically pretty big bonuses usually have stock options or equity within the company. 

Sonia Gomez: They should because they’ve become slaves. For sure. Disclaimer, that’s not like a politically correct term. But that’s the truth. So talk to me specifically about banks and how you guys are helping, like what are the big challenges that you’re solving for both the business and for those of you guys who are listening right now if you hear and feel like, Oh shit, I’m having that problem, definitely get in touch with Vangst because they are the big dogs in the space as far as solving these problems for you guys. And likewise, if you are somebody who’s listening and you’re looking for a position to come into this industry, certainly banks can be a part of helping you guys get connected to the right companies and culture that you want to be a part of. So talk to me specifically about Vangst and the problems that you guys are solving.

Challenges and Staffing Strategy

Andrew Freeman: Right? Well, I’d say one of the biggest problems we saw with companies when they’re thinking about how to scale is thinking about what their actual staffing strategy is going to be. So one of the first things we do is workforce planning with them, looking at their business plan and making sure they’ve really defined a proper business plan, because there’s a lot of companies, that’s a construction company, but they don’t really understand what they’re doing wholesale retail or just goods, are they doing small scale niche products. 

To figuring out what your actual business plan is going to be and then you can figure out what the staff is going to be to actually drive that. So figuring out what the words are is going to be and then thanks can get involved when we’re doing contingency hiring, so doing, you know, high-level placements, like a VP of Ops, the director of cultivation, getting these high-level full-time roles in place for your company. 

Also, another big thing with a lot of these companies, especially in newer markets, is they don’t have the qualified cultivation or extraction staff to run the lab especially right off the bat. One of these folks learn on the long term, but we can find folks to move your take a job with your company that really hit the ground running speed up significantly the startup pays and certainly lower the startup costs for your company and make sure you don’t make a lot of mistakes that have been made in other states years ago. Learn from [inaudible] that have made those do. 

And then also we are looking at exploring doing a lot more with contracting consulting work. There’s a lot of cases where it makes sense to have a true expert might be like like a cultivator or chapters like a PhD might be a bit expensive for your company, but on a three to six-month basis on a consulting retainer basis might be a perfect fit for what your company needs and can also work and train your staff on-site to get better at what they do. 

And then at the low level, we’re talking about budtenders trimmer packagers, is hired lower level hourly positions, that’s you know, 80-90% of work in cannabis. A lot of cases folks have their core group, but as demand increases or now there’s turnover that happens they need staff ready to go on short notice. We are equipped to actually send gigs workers on site to actually help you on short notice, when you hourly staff my seasonal harvest that’s [inaudible] —

Sonia Gomez: And how do you guys get those people because let’s talk about the traditional business you don’t invite a stranger to your casa when your cash is on the table. You know what I mean? Like you don’t want a stranger coming into a grow house is going to be like one for you one for me, you get to have that culture. So for the gig workers, what are some of your like baseline qualifiers for them before you push that out into it?

Andrew Freeman: So one of the first things we’ve had is whether they have a badge in Colorado, which is important you gotta be badged, you gotta be able to legally work. So they also do a background check on them. Make sure reference checks well for candidates to see how they’ve done in other positions, not necessarily cannabis positions. And then we actually have figures that actually speak with the candidates to make sure they have some experience doing what they do know a lot of working in the industry. If you have a badger in here– 

Sonia Gomez: I’ll call Joe said I ran his entire crew. That’s there’s still a lot of that. I mean, I laugh because I come from The Emerald Triangle. I come from old school cannabis. I watched thousands of plants get cut down processed by a mom with a baby on our back and a freaking one of those hats that have the water bottle right here because she doesn’t even have time to go pee. But she’s just like running, strain on these trimmers who are like, you’re not doing two pounds and not get out of my house if you’re not like producing, right? And she’ll, I mean, just incredible people who are extremely skilled and are definitely doing this, but maybe don’t have the clout. So the references right when you’re checking in with people are going to be from those types of facilities. 

And I asked these questions because it’s a real challenge. People who are extremely talented and have a history of the space are missing the opportunities as the industry is advancing, because the key qualifiers that you’re looking for, eliminate that in a lot of cases. So what are some of the things that they can do to become qualified? If they’re coming, they’re skilled, humble people with the ability to run a team and want to get part of a team that’s growing and flourishing in the marketplace, what are some things that you could advise them to do so that they can get ready to play that bigger role?

Words of Wisdom

Andrew Freeman: So I’m in one big thing with a lot of folks to the black market is they really don’t like to talk about what they actually do. And I found a lot of folks that have a normal resume that would never [inaudible] have no idea that they’ve [inaudible] market I’ve advised a lot of folks to come up with a portfolio or a cover letter that shares a little bit more about what they’ve done because it can really stand out in your application certainly if they’re they’re going to work face it’s gonna stand out us they put some time together to do that showed us pictures their product showed us. I know a lot of people don’t like to share their– certainly where they’re farmers–

Sonia Gomez: Yeah, it looks like you’re they’re like dumb google map this.

Andrew Freeman: Even if you show a picture of your growth show a lot more. [inaudible] years of experience, it’s a lot harder than that. But if you were putting together a little bit of a summary bio about your experience that can be really, really helpful in presenting yourself. Because I work with folks that they submit their resume and cannabis extracts it all, find their cover letter finder portfolio, or get connected with them. And then they say they tell me more about the [inaudible] again, can you put together a summary for me? So when I present it to my clients, they understand I think it was yelling, and if they had gone, not going through various if they’d gone directly to a client, or company, they probably would have gotten a callback.

Sonia Gomez: Yes. You guys actually as a support system and a facilitator on behalf of both the applicants and the client.

Andrew Freeman: Yeah, absolutely. I know, you know, we find skilled staff work for a client, but the reality is we’re a very candidate-centric company. We work with a candidate we coach them, we teach them we make sure to manage that relationship long term. So if we go through the process, you don’t get the job, you know, after a month or something. We’re going to stay in touch, we’re going to find something that really is going to be a good fit for you in the long term. It might take a couple of months and I’ve worked with candidates for over two years now and but eventually, there’s going to wait it out where we’d love to work with you because we want to find a place for the industry.

Sonia Gomez: So who’s your ideal partner here at MJBizCon as we are or in the industry, on the business and applicant side, just let me know quick and dirty or talk directly to them. If you are x, we can help you do what–

Andrew Freeman: I would say if you are a plant-touching producer which I know a lot of exhibitors here aren’t you are looking for staff, full-time staff, high-level staff or part-time or temp labor, low level, we can help you scale your company. We can make HR significantly easier, cheaper for you by outsourcing a lot of that work for us so it doesn’t have to take up so much of your time and attention and make sure that you have good as you grow and get bigger and bigger, you’re ready to go. You don’t get overwhelmed, you don’t have to stop–

Sonia Gomez: Amazing! And if you guys are skilled people in the cannabis and hemp industry and you are looking for some support and a liaison to get you placed in the right company so that you can start to play your highest role and played to the passion that you have for this space, make sure that you get in touch with Vangst. We have some great friends over there who are happy to help and support you getting a position where you want and need to be to grow with the industry. 

Any final words Andrew, I really really enjoyed our conversation. And I want to follow up when we get back to Colorado and have a more extensive because we have a vast network all across the country of people who I wouldn’t necessarily refer to like tremors as a lower level because that for me is like the hardest job any of it is the hardest job. So I have a lot of people who are very skilled in that phase, who would love to come in and be able to be a support system to the emerging farmers on both on hemp and cannabis. 

So the good workers we have tons of as well as people who have specialized knowledge in this industry we’re just looking for a good company to collaborate with might be able to help them get placed. So when we get back to Colorado I’d love to follow up. Andrew where can they find you if they want to get in touch with you guys?

Where to Find Them

Andrew Freeman: vangst.com, going into the best way to get VANGST.com. Vangst to means to catch in Dutch and I email is andrew@vangst.com and we do have a great sales staff and a lot of folks get in touch explain more about what we do how to get you started [inaudible]

Sonia Gomez: Amazing! Hey guys, make sure you check out vangst.com we’re super excited to be in collaboration with them and helping you guys find the team so you can buy your time back. But also for those of you guys who are watching the industry blossom around you. This is your opportunity to have the proper representation that you need to get with the companies and brands that You want I’m your hostess with the most is Sonia Gomez and this is The Hemp Revolution, broadcasting live from Las Vegas at MJBizCon shout out to all of our sponsors, make sure that you check out the links around this video and we’ll see you guys on our next show.

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