Expert Advice to Launching your Lab and Extraction Career
In a lot of ways, cannabis extraction is exactly what it sounds like: the process of extracting an active compound from the cannabis plant. And whether it’s THC, CBD, CBN or another of the many cannabinoids from the plant, the extracted compound becomes usable for many products. Consumer goods like tinctures, capsules, vape cartridges, beverages and concentrates are all the result of those who work in the lab. It’s a side of the industry where science, technology and problem-solving come together every day. We recently held a roundtable discussion with Kyle Farook, the Director of Extraction & Formulation at Polaris Innovations, to get an insider’s take on this exciting and innovative sector of the cannabis business.
A knack for science helps candidates break-in
While other sectors of the cannabis industry don’t always look for specific requirements in their candidates, lab and extraction is a little different. Being such a highly technical and science-related field, having a relevant education or work background sets you ahead. “A science or chemistry background is a huge advantage in this space,” exclaims Kyle.
But you don’t always need scientific expertise or lab experience to be successful in the field, especially with a lab technician role. “I look for people with lab training” adds Kyle. Getting certified in lab training like GMP is a big plus for anyone looking to break in, but at the same time, it’s not always a disqualifier. “Attention to detail is the most important thing,” says Kyle. “I’ve worked with great technicians that have been chefs, mechanics and people with agriculture backgrounds. There’s always a home for you if you’re willing to learn.”
Understand the qualifications and job training program beforehand
When it comes to discussing qualifications and job training programs during your interview, “it’s good to know what you’re getting yourself into ahead of time” advises the host of our roundtable, Spencer Peters. Know what the job training program looks like and make sure it’s something you want to dedicate time towards, because unlike other verticals in cannabis, getting started in lab and extraction often requires certain certifications, qualifications or committing to an on-the-job training program. For an insider’s take on qualifications and training to expect in the lab, feel free to ask questions and get advice on our Lab and Extraction Forum.
Lab and extraction positions and their roles
When it comes to staffing a lab, every position has an important role to play. From the director of extraction to lab technicians, below is an overview of titles and positions you’ll encounter in just about any lab. To get an idea of compensation for each position, dive into our Cannabis Salary Guide.
Director of Extraction. Also known as the Lab Director, the Director of Extraction oversees the development of post-harvest processes, performs chemical analysis for the determination of harvest timing, post-harvest processing and tailors extraction operating procedures to meet business needs.
Compliance Manager. The Compliance Manager is primarily responsible for researching and interpreting regulatory compliance across the entire cannabis supply chain including cultivation, manufacturing and retail.
Extraction Manager. The supervision of the extraction team and intake department lies on the shoulders of the Extraction Manager. Other titles for this role include Lab Manager, Lab Team Lead and Lab Supervisor.
Chemist. The Chemist, also known as a Lab Analyst, is responsible for preparing equipment and plant materials for extraction, operating extraction equipment and the ongoing maintenance of lab materials.
Quality Manager. Ensuring quality at every step, the Quality Manager oversees product and environmental testing, internal product release, product recall, product returns, and product labeling in accordance with state regulations and the organization's internal procedures and processes.
Extraction Technician. The ideal position for breaking into lab and extraction, an Extraction Technician is responsible for assisting in the production of cannabis extract through various extraction techniques and processes.
What experts like Kyle look for in employees
No matter if you have a relevant science degree or a lab background, extraction directors like Kyle are on the hunt for specific qualities in anyone who applies for a role, whether it’s a first-time lab technician or senior-level manager. The same goes for employees who are looking to move up the ranks in the lab itself.
An attention-to-detail. The everyday safety and process of a lab are detail-oriented practices, and when you can demonstrate that you have a high-level attention-to-detail, it will stand out in a big way.
Adhere to best practices. Quality and safety are hallmarks of any lab, cannabis extraction being no exception. Adherence to best practices for process and safety, like GMP lab standards, is fundamental to your career in the lab.
Being a team player. No matter if it’s a facility of 5 or 50, working in a lab is being a part of a team. Being communicative and demonstrating that you can be trusted shows that you’re a team player who can move up the ladder.
A work hard, work smart profession Although cannabis lab and extraction teams rely heavily on scientific knowledge and processes, there are still business goals and production quotas to work against. When Kyle leads a lab, he likes to give teams the opportunity to define how they want to work. For instance, if there’s a monthly quota of vape cartridges to fulfill, Kyle asks his team, “Do we want to work hard for 3 weeks with 10 or 12 hour days in order to get some time off at the end of the month?” “It’s cool to get to work together as a team to decide how to allocate our labor and time to meet the goals of the business” adds Kyle.
Lab and extraction can lead to new and unique opportunities
Not only can employees work their way up the ranks of the lab, but some on the extraction side of the business use their knowledge to break into other aspects of the cannabis industry. For instance, when lab employees help determine the formulation basis for products like tinctures, it helps open doors to food and beverage development. In fact, Kyle has been able to utilize his lab experience to enter the world of product development within the cannabis space.
“I see it as a great pivot, getting experience in extraction and wanting to take it further. Being involved in the concepting and creation of consumer goods and bringing them out to market” says Kyle. Consumer goods, marketing, wholesale, or even starting their own labs or companies can all originate from what you learn in the lab. “Some even travel all the way back upstream to cultivation” exclaims Kyle, and when they do, they understand more about both sides of the business.
What’s your favorite thing about working in this industry?
Lab and extraction, like all sides of the cannabis business, is still being defined by the people who work in it. “I love that we’re a forefront industry,” says Kyle. “We’re creating new solutions, technologies, innovations and products all the time.” For instance, Delta 8 THC developed into an entirely new market thanks to a happy accident in the CBD space. “Someone can get into the industry now and still have 20 years’ worth of innovations to contribute. That’s really exciting. There’s so much more to be discovered” concludes Kyle.
Now is the perfect time to consider a lab and extraction career
As both the cannabis and hemp industries continue to boom, so do the opportunities that come with lab and extraction. From breaking into the space as a lab technician to innovating new processes, formulas and products, the lab is one of the most exciting and dynamic sectors in the cannabis business.
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