With the impending legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada, a college north of Calgary has introduced a program that will prepare students for careers in the cannabis industry.

The cannabis production program at Old College will consist of four online courses covering horticulture, production and legislation followed by two weeks of hands-on experience with partner companies including Sundial Growers, which plans to build a growing facility near Olds, and Terra Life Sciences, a company that creates pharmaceuticals.

The program was created to help train students for the hundreds of positions the companies will need to fill.

“We had an industry that approached us (and) identified the needs they had within their sector,” said Debbie Thompson, Olds College’s VP of academic & student experience. “We created this program to respond to the needs they had for their workforce moving on.”

The program’s first intake of students is scheduled to begin their courses in July. Registration began on May 1 and the first class of 20 students is already full. The three month certificate program, which does not offer college credits, costs roughly $4,000.

Geoff Thompson, president of Sundial Growers, says the company is building a large facility on 40 acres of land in Olds that is scheduled to open in the summer of 2019.

“When it’s built, we will produce over 100 million grams of dried cannabis per year and we’ll have extraction facilities, one here and one in Kamloops, BC, that will position us as likely one of the top five cannabis companies in the country.”  

Thompson says his company will need skilled staff and expects to hire a majority of the students who finish the cannabis production program. “We have to hire somewhere in the range of 50 to 70 people for our startup operations at our Olds facility in the third quarter of this year. That first cohort could be 100 per cent hired.”

Anil Jain, CEO of Terra Life Sciences, says the company will entertain hiring the graduates of the program and will offer a competitive wage. “We are looking for skilled people and they can command pretty decent salaries.” The company expects to hire 20 new employees in the near future.

Employees of the cannabis companies are expected to make an annual salary of upwards of $50,000 to start with room for growth within the company.

Olds College is one of three Canadian schools that are offering cannabis programs and the institution’s cannabis retail course is scheduled to begin this fall.

With files from CTV’s Alesia Fieldberg