What Do Millennials Want from Their Jobs, and Should They Explore Careers in the Cannabis Industry?

With the slow, dreamy days of summer gone, it’s time to get back to it. Back to reality, back to school, back to work. With the world’s professionals returning to the office, it may also be time to make some professional moves of your own.

A 2018 Pew Research study estimated that about 35% of the workforce is comprised of Millennials, making them the generation with the largest share of jobs right now. This is hardly surprising, since the label “Millennial” covers anyone born between the years 1980 and 1996. Whether you’re a fresh-faced 22-year-old right out of college or a 38-year-old just starting to carve out time for your budding family, you’re a part of this often beloved, sometimes derided and much-studied generation.

Whereas generations prior made relatively predictable career choices, Millennials have chosen to depart from the patterns and behaviors of their predecessors, and this has made for fertile subject matter for researchers. As Brandon Rigoni and Amy Adkins, both of Gallup, wrote in the Harvard Business Review, professionals in this age range exhibit distinct behaviors, many of which show a shift from loyalty to their employers to prioritization of themselves as individuals. For example, 71% of Millennials are not engaged or more seriously disengaged from their occupations, and they’re much more likely than more senior generations to be open to pursuing job opportunities outside of their current organizations.

More interesting than the existence of this professional discontent, however, is understanding the rationale at its heart. What are the items that the largest segment of the workforce wants but isn’t finding in their jobs? Millennial haters might wager that members of this feelings-first generation are on a quest to find roles that let them express themselves, whether through work itself or company culture. However, Adkins and Rigoni of Gallup uncovered a very different and surprisingly pragmatic set of priorities. Reigning at the top of the Millennial job checklist are not the freedom to apply creativity or ability to have fun in the workplace but rather the opportunities to learn, grow, be mentored by qualified managers, and achieve professional advancement. Sitting squarely in the middle of the ranking was compensation, and at the bottom of the list were items like creative freedom and fun office environment. With the economy increasingly powered by haphazardly managed startups that emphasize perks like kombucha on tap and free gym memberships, it’s little wonder that there’s increasing dissatisfaction.


Credit: HBR.org


It’s no secret that one of the fastest growing industries in the United States is cannabis, and that growth has caught the interest of Millennials. According to a conversation between TD Ameritrade’s CEO Tim Hockey and Business Insider, there has been explosive interest in investing in cannabis, and there may also be increasing interest in pursuing employment in cannabis, according to a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer. But are Millennials likely to find more satisfaction pursuing careers in cannabis than in other industries?

Reliable statistics on cannabis are generally more myth than reality, and that’s certainly true of statistics on employment in the industry. Still, we can try to make some conclusions on how cannabis delivers on those same factors that Millennials care about most when they make job decisions.

Opportunities to learn and grow

The U.S. cannabis industry generated about $7 billion in revenue in 2016, and revenue is projected to double by 2020. To provide a sense of scale, the beer industry is projected to generate about $111 billion in 2018. In other words, cannabis is both fast-growing and nascent, which means that there are opportunities to learn and grow with the industry as it matures. The industry in its current state is not the industry that will exist in 5 or 10 years. Everyone, even leaders of companies, is figuring this landscape out, which means that those looking to be scrappy and be challenged with complex puzzles may find cannabis attractive.

Quality of manager and quality of management

However, there is much more to professional growth than relying on the overall trend of an industry. Roxanne Hori, Associate Dean of the MBA program at NYU’s Stern School of Business said, “I think about the 90s when tech was just bubbling up. People were taking a chance on the companies because they liked the founders and believed in their visions. And so they thought about what they brought to the table and what they hoped to get out of the experience. Similarly, in cannabis, the choice might be somewhat industry agnostic and more about the skills a person can bring and develop.”

The desire to capture a slice of the pie, often called “the Green Rush,” has attracted everyone from heavy cannabis consumers who are passionate about the plant but lack professional experience to professionals applying the skills they have honed outside of cannabis to create promising businesses. This means that the experience level of your manager could be great or it could be woefully lacking. It’s important to do your research and believe in the leadership and business model when potentially accepting a role at any company, but it is especially vital when considering a job in these early years of the cannabis industry. 

Opportunity for advancement

According to AngelList in early 2018, despite the billions of dollars being generated by the cannabis, there was a disproportionately low number of jobs listed in the space. Our suspicion is that openings in the industry are relatively scarce because the vast majority of businesses are startups that have little capital for headcount. This makes it difficult to get a foot in the door in the first place, but if you do, it may be possible to shape your role and take more ownership in this young sector.

Long-term implications if you decide the cannabis industry isn’t for you

The long-term implications of taking a job weren’t a dimension in Gallup polling, but they might be a consideration if you’re exploring a career in cannabis. Does joining a cannabis company tarnish your resume and make it impossible to get a job outside of cannabis in the future? There isn’t a single, definitive answer here, but with attitudes toward cannabis quickly evolving in a positive direction, we think it’s unlikely that you’ll be treated differently by hiring managers after a foray in the industry if you make good choices. According to James Kingham, a career coach for MBAs at NYU’s Stern School of Business, “Most hiring managers will focus on individual performance more than the status of the cannabis sector, and they’ll understand that you took a chance on the industry.”  The legitimacy of your work and of the company on your resume will always be important, so be thoughtful about the value that a cannabis role may add to your experience before accepting it. Legality is a factor in legitimacy too, so be thorough and ask for transparency to ensure that the company you’re joining is compliant with state-level law, at a minimum.


Let us know what questions you have, and what your priorities are when you look for a new job by sending us a message on Facebook. And sign up for our newsletter to get more stories like this delivered to your inbox once a week.