Before Justin Trudeau was prime minister—and before Canadians had any idea that cannabis would become legal—Kwantlen Polytechnic University was offering career training in this industry. When it launched its first online course in September 2015, the focus was on identifying clinical applications for medicinal cannabis.
It was the first public postsecondary institution in Canada to venture into this area. “We have a very forward-thinking executive and a forward-thinking board of governors that has allowed us to do this,” KPU’s director of emerging business, David Purcell, told the Straight by phone.
The regional university now offers three such online courses and is also going to host a two-day interactive retail-cannabis-consultant workshop on December 7 and 8 at its Richmond campus.
According to Purcell, the workshop will cover all aspects of provincial and federal regulation, as well as the history of cannabis prohibition and issues relating to customer service. (For more information, visit www.kpu.ca/cannabis.)
“We’ll talk about cannabinoids and terpenes and the different kinds of plants,” Purcell said.
The online career-training courses were developed in conjunction with several people in the cannabis industry. The senior curriculum adviser is David Rémillard, a cofounder of Ryz Rémi Organic Skin Care and a medical-cannabis patient who has spoken at cannabis conferences.
One of the courses, Plant Production and Facility Management, has been updated and revamped to reflect how legalization is proceeding under the Cannabis Act. Purcell said that over 13 weeks, students gain a “foundational understanding” of both the industry and the cannabis plant.
They also learn how and where to grow it, as well as in which facilities this might take place.
“We talk about quality assurance, quality control, and quality-management systems in this course,” Purcell said. “We also talk about standard operating procedures and, of course, all the federal and provincial regulatory frameworks under which Health Canada dictates the production of cannabis in Canada.”
Another 13-week course, Marketing Under the Cannabis Act, “arms people with the tools necessary to make sure that they’re following the rules and regulations—and aren’t contravening any of those rules”.
Purcell said it can help those with a marketing background or an understanding of marketing strategies learn how their skills can be applied at a licensed cannabis producer or an ancillary cannabis company in Canada.
The third offering, Financing a Cannabis Enterprise in Canada, is an eight-week course for aspiring entrepreneurs. It offers insights into the economics of the cannabis industry and how the market functions.
A major focus is helping learners understand how to raise capital, prepare their pitches for funding, develop a business plan, and then launch their cannabis-related company. Purcell said that the course gives students a good grounding on how to build a business around ancillary products in the cannabis sector.
“We’ve been offering that course for a little over a year now,” he noted. “It’s gaining traction.”
Purcell revealed that KPU is in the “late stages” of developing a year-long cannabis-cultivation course to train entry and midlevel workers for employment with licensed producers. In addition, the regional university is in the process of creating a course to teach people to become quality-assurance technicians for licensed producers, which could be available by the spring or summer of next year.
“The industry has told us that quality-assurance tech and quality control are really the big pieces that are missing from the workforce now,” Purcell said. “We’re building that course specifically now to fill that need. We’re also looking at building extraction courses.”
The long-term goal is for KPU to develop certificate, diploma, and degree programs focusing on cannabis.
“The industry is going to demand it,” Purcell predicted. “We’re working with our faculty to create course work and to create curriculum that would be suitable and would be in demand for those types of programs.”
In the meantime, KPU has formed partnerships with postsecondary institutions in other provinces to ensure that its curriculum is reaching students across the country. Purcell said graduates are finding jobs in this area, in part because the courses were crafted by people already working in the industry. KPU is also in discussions with education administrators in other countries, including Australia.
“We’re not just looking at it in Canada,” Purcell said. “We really want to lead this across the planet.”