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Budding cannabis industry brings unique education opportunities to Okanagan College

As the emerging cannabis industry continues to spark growing interest and dialogue, Okanagan College has partnered with experts across the region and beyond to develop a diverse offering of courses – from greenhouse pest management techniques to business fundamentals and retail sales training.

“This is a fluid and dynamic field full of aspiring producers and investors,” says Dr. Dennis Silvestrone, Director of Continues Studies and Corporate Training at Okanagan College. “The courses we have developed bring a unique educational experience to people interested in the sector. Our goal is to be ahead of the curve and find innovative ways to serve workers and employers in the Okanagan Shuswap as the industry gains momentum.”

As federal legislation regarding the usage of cannabis changes, so, too, are the attitudes surrounding the industry and those learning about and working in it. Initial interest in the offerings has been strong. The Growing Your Own Cannabis course has already filled to capacity, prompting the College to explore adding another intake this fall.

As Silvestrone points out, there is also a host of information, such as workplace policies, that employers will need to educate themselves on.

“There’s far more to cannabis training than the cultivation side of things,” he explains. “The implications around cannabis and the workplace, around facility practices and business fundamentals are vast and far-reaching and so we’re working to provide as diverse a programming array as possible to serve the community.”

With the region’s long growing season, agriculture has traditionally been a significant part of the local economy. So, it’s not surprising that the emerging cannabis industry would look to the Okanagan as an ideal environment for growth. The potential for licensed cannabis producers to set up businesses in the area means jobs for people in a growing industry and tax revenues for communities, much like the growth brought by the wine industry.

Jeff Thorne is Cultivation Manager at Sunniva, a medical cannabis company currently building a new greenhouse facility in Okanagan Falls. Thorne has years of experience in the cannabis industry and has been involved in the development of the course materials at the College.

 “The cannabis training courses offered at Okanagan College are more than just theory,” says Thorne. “Created by veteran cannabis industry professionals, they give students tactile learning experiences. Individuals may have a background in the industry, but no idea on how to successfully commercialize their businesses. These courses are designed to help people understand the regulations and licensing requirements needed to meet current medical cannabis industry demands and take their production processes to the next level,” says Thorne.

The production process for medical grade marijuana is carefully regulated to maintain quality. “When you’re growing a product on a farm and delivering it to a pharmacy, you have to understand the quality assurance process. These courses will deliver that knowledge,” says Thorne.

Labour market predictions indicate the industry will see greatest demand for semi-skilled jobs in areas such as canopy maintenance, pest management, processing and extraction. Thorne notes that opportunities for on-the-job training do exist, and workers who take steps to build a foundation of industry knowledge will excel.

The College made headlines last fall when it became one of the first in the sector in B.C. to implement a Cannabis course through its School of Business. The Emerging Marijuana Industry was the name of the course taught by David Cram, a 26-year veteran College business professor. It illuminated students to the regulatory process and emerging business impacts of legalization, in the context of the Canadian economy.

Intakes for the courses offered through the College’s Continuing Studies department begin in September. Course details, tuition and application information can be found online at okanagan.bc.ca/cannabistraining.