Niagara College and Canopy Growth announced an educational partnership today which will create placement opportunities and applied research projects for the college’s new commercial cannabis production program.
The program, which will launch in September, will be the first post-secondary program of its kind in Canada.
Niagara College president Dan Patterson said the partnership will help the college “fine-tune” the program, so the college can support the growing workforce demand in the cannabis industry.
“It’s a new program, our commercial cannabis production program, and we want to get it right,” Patterson said, during a tour of Tweed Farms in Niagara-on-the-Lake Tuesday morning.
Tweed Farms, a brand of Canopy Growth, is currently one of the largest licensed cannabis production facilities in North America.
As a result of the partnership, internship and co-op opportunities will be available at Canopy Growth facilities across Canada, particularly at Tweed.
The farm is currently working on a 1-million-square-foot expansion and expects to increase its staff from 80 to more than 180 by completion in July.
“It’s an exciting day not just for the college, but for the workforce of the future in this area and for our community,” said Patterson.
NOTL Lord Mayor Pat Darte said the partnership will provide an “economic boost” for the town, bringing “the pay scale up” for new employees coming in from the college and staying in the area.
“It’s great for Niagara-on-the-Lake because we are trying to attract young families and young people,” said Darte.
“Niagara-on-the-Lake needs some rejuvenation and this is part of it.”
Patterson said the college built the new program on the strengths of its “signature” greenhouse technician program.
He said the college assessed 20 cannabis producers to identify the necessary industry skills and knowledge required before forming the education partnership with Canopy Growth.
Patterson said the company was chosen because it has a “pharmaceutical-like environment” in the sense that students need to understand the whole process of plant nurturing and caring.
“At the heart of the agreement is a recognition that, in order for this sector to be successful, it has to make sure that it is a highly skilled workforce that understands the complexities of the health regulatory environment,” he said.
Mark Zekulin, president of Canopy Growth, said there are a lot of “extra rules” imposed on the product because it’s agriculture that can be smoked, ingested and vaporized as a medicine.
“They’re essentially pharmaceutical procedures applied to a plant,” he said.
“So it’s a very unique system, and particularly when we get to the processing part, it starts to look like a real agricultural processing — but again, with a lot more pharmaceutical standards applied upon it.”
Patterson said the partnership is now a model on “how to manage in the future.”
“I think the companies that embrace a training culture, very much like Canopy Growth, who take the time to partner with education, start to develop a talent pool that they can call on to support their work,” he said.
“We have an opportunity here in Niagara to capitalize on a growing industry and to get it right.”
Twenty-four students are expected to start in the college’s cannabis production program in September.