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Cannabis apprenticeship means workforce equity for communities of color

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(Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Two months ago, the San Francisco Examiner broke the news that Supervisor Ahsha Safaí had proposed to expand the nationally-recognized CityBuild job training program into the cannabis industry, starting with a pre-apprenticeship program that he appropriately calls, “CityGrow.” CityGrow is potentially a hands-on cannabis cultivation program that would provide job training and placement for economically disadvantaged job seekers.

Sup. Safai’s Cannabis Apprenticeship Ordinance proposal has been greeted with excitement and enthusiasm. Workforce service providers spend every day, fighting with workers of color and formerly incarcerated job seekers in the neighborhoods that were most ravaged by the failed war on drugs. In this new era, we are hopeful that opportunities created by Supervisor Malia Cohen’s Cannabis Equity Program will benefit the very same community members that have been negatively afflicted for years.

We are optimistic because we know that this program will —if we are to meet the hopes and expectations of jobseekers, instead of leading them to further disappointment— need both industry-level training and job guarantees for training graduates. Of course we must also balance these workforce development goals with the needs and economic realities of employers in this brand-new and growing industry.

We have learned through more than 10 years of CityBuild classes that have graduated more than 1,400 workers that there is no better way to accomplish these objectives than through state-approved apprenticeship. Working apprentices make family-sustainable wages with job security and health benefits during this ever climbing affordability crisis.

While we typically think of apprenticeship as it relates to the construction industry, many industries are required to hire apprentices through federal, state, and local policies. In reality, you will find apprenticeships everywhere there is public interest in ensuring a steady flow of entry-level workers into important industries, and a policy decision that workers should earn while they learn to hone their craft, you will find apprenticeship.

Cannabis is no different. On September 18th of this year, the Statewide Cannabis Industry Employers Joint Apprenticeship Committee officially filed an application to establish apprenticeship program for pharmacy technicians, cannabis nursery specialists, manufacturing technicians, and cannabis distribution drivers.

At the direction of Governor Jerry Brown, the state is expected to fast-track approval of these programs by the end of the year. Moreover, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who is expected to succeed Governor Brown, is likely to prioritize cannabis apprenticeship implementation. After all, he founded CityBuild, led efforts to legalize cannabis, and committed to creating 500,000 new apprenticeships by 2029.

CityBuild works because it is a pre-apprenticeship program in which the City partners with community-based organizations to recruit workers from economically disadvantaged communities. Participants receive an approved training curriculum that has been developed hand-in-hand with employers and labor organizations.

CityGrow will satisfy an employer’s “local hiring,” “equity hiring,” and “first source hiring” obligations, making the program not only a resource to hire skilled workers but also a one-stop shop to fulfill City licensing requirements.

We’re counting on policymakers to approve the Cannabis Apprenticeship Ordinance to advance cannabis workforce equity in our communities.

Jacqueline Flin is the Executive Director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute San Francisco, an affiliate of the oldest AFL-CIO constituency group, a community-based organization serving African Americans and workers of color across the country.

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