Cannabis industry training continues at HCC this fall

  • Holyoke Community College GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 10/8/2021 4:10:01 PM

HOLYOKE — The Cannabis Education Center will continue its training programs at Holyoke Community College this fall, complementing the city’s swiftly growing cannabis industry and its new identity as “Rolling Paper City.”

Michele Cabral, the college’s interim executive director of professional education and corporate learning, said the program started during the summer of 2019 and “was really successful” until COVID-19 surfaced.

“The cannabis industry got hit really hard,” she said, noting that the program’s original partner, the Cannabis Community Care and Research Network, was negatively impacted by the pandemic and no longer exists.

In May 2020, the college relaunched its cannabis program over Zoom in partnership with Elevate Northeast, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that supports the marijuana industry through training and education. Cabral said just over 100 people have signed up for the introductory Cannabis Core course since then.

Cannabis Core is a broad overview of the cannabis industry that takes place over four virtual sessions of three hours each. Guest speakers and experts will “bring cannabis-specific knowledge,” Cabral said, to subjects including products, laws, plant care, labeling, and employment considerations related to the industry.

The next Cannabis Core program will run over the weekend of Oct. 16 and 17, from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. Additional programs will be offered Nov. 9 to 17 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 6 to 9 p.m., as well as on Nov. 28 to Dec. 20 on Mondays from 6 to 9 p.m.

Completing the core program qualifies students to enroll in one of four short cannabis career track courses: patient services associate, cultivation assistant, extraction technician, and culinary assistant.

“Every class has some aspect of industry expertise,” Cabral said. For example, chefs and bakers serve as experts for the culinary assistant class.

Although the minimum age to enter the industry is 21, Cabral said students in these programs comprise “a broad spectrum across age.” Older people are switching career paths to cannabis-based jobs and “young people are trying to break into the industry,” she said.

Cabral said that employers are favoring those with prior education because they want “serious people with strong work ethics.” As some of these jobs can be difficult, HCC’s training is aimed to improve students’ chances on the job market.

“Holyoke is such an up and coming area… for the cannabis industry,” Cabral said.

Marijuana establishments in Holyoke collectively hold more licenses from the Cannabis Control Commission than any other city in the entire state, with a total of 50 approved licenses and 18 still pending. The runner-up city for most approved licenses in Massachusetts is Worcester, which trails Holyoke by a wide margin of 18 establishments.

“There is so much hiring right now,” Cabral said of the industry. “We recognize that someone’s going to want to take these jobs.” She suggested that keeping them local could benefit Holyoke.

All the cannabis courses at HCC can accommodate between 10 and 25 students. The Cannabis Core training costs $595 and the career track courses cost $799 each, with scholarship money available through Elevate Northeast.

Cabral said the college plans to continue offering these courses in the future and registration is currently open through the websites of Holyoke Community College and the Cannabis Education Center.

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