Transition Stories - Iron & Earth

Transition Stories

Introducing Carl Kaufmann, the first feature in Iron & Earth’s Transition Story Series. Read about Carls’ transition experience here!

Carl Kaufmann Headshot

Luisa Da Silva

Thanks for joining us today, Carl. So this is the blog, about everybody that is involved in the organization. So I wanted to start with you because you're pretty unique. You have over 16 years’ experience in the staffing and recruitment area in renewables mining, energy and decarbonization industries, and they're quite niche industries and I wanted to know what drew you to those industries.

 

Carl Kaufman

A couple of things really drew me to those industries and you're right they are fairly niche. I grew up in Perth, Western Australia, and you know it's a really isolated city, stuck in a little green patch wedged between the desert and the Indian Ocean.  Perth was really built off the back of agriculture and broad acre farming, and the mining industry. Most of my family are either farmers, or they’re somehow involved in mining or the gas industry in Northwest Western Australia.  So I grew up around both of those two industries, and was lucky enough to spend a fair bit of time, we had a little shack up on the beach north of Perth and I developed a really healthy respect for the environment and love of the environment through spending time on farms and on the beach and also, an understanding and knowledge of the mining industry and the importance of the mining industry, so those are kind of the two things that I was most exposed to a young age.  And then when I got into search and staffing, I started studying that industry in Perth.  Mining was a huge growth phase in the early 2000s and there was a lot of opportunity there so that's where I specialized my time and my attention.  Then as my career has continued, I've been more and more drawn to the renewables space.  Perhaps as my concern for the environment and our survival as a species on this planet has come more and more to the fore, I guess I've really looked at what's the solution for that, how do I become part of that solution, and how can I use my skill set to help be part of the solution - and that's really focusing what I can do well, which is executive search and staffing and recruitment, and focus that in areas that are going to make a difference, which renewable energy decarbonization is a big piece of that and, the essential in my mind - the essential linchpin for our success when it comes to decarbonization and the adoption of renewable energy at scale - is the mining industry, because without the essential metals and resources necessary to be able to leverage the technologies, we just can't achieve it.  So that's why I've focused my efforts and my time and attention into that area.

 

Luisa

I love how you tie that in together because it's so true - the mining industry really is critical to pushing the renewables and the green energy sector along for a lot of the technologies that need to be put into place.  But in some of those industries they really face a skill shortage, and they really do need the skilled workers, but oftentimes, you know over the years that there's the skill shortage, but also a lack of skilled workers. So how do you solve that problem?

 

Carl

There's not an easy solution. If there was, we wouldn't have this.  There has been a skills shortage across these industries, since I started in search and staffing. The skill shortage has been going on 20 years from my experience, and realistically, it's probably been going on significantly longer than that. There's a few things that create the skills shortage, and particularly the skill shortage that we're facing now. And the cyclical nature of some of these industries results in a skill shortage when, particularly the mining industry, needs people, because it's a cyclical industry. When the industry needs people, a load of people want to go and get the training required and to get a career in the industry. Unfortunately, that training takes a significant amount of time and often due to the length of cycles within the industry, by the time those people have trained, maybe they're going to work in the industry for a year or two and then there's not enough work and so they go off and do something else, and often don't return to the industry. So you have this never ending scenario as projects and opportunities ramp up, there's not enough people, then they get to a point where there is almost enough people and then a load of people end up leaving and going to find other industries as it gets quiet.  Also more recently, I think that now there is a bit of a changing focus - but if I go back 10 years and look at what people were going to university to study, even though the mining industry particularly was looking for a lot of highly skilled and educated people, who (they) didn't want to go and work in the mining industry, because they saw that as an industry that was destroying the environment - not as essential to saving the environment -  and so people weren't interested in going into it. Now, it's a little bit different, you get a lot of people that really do want to make a difference and they're doing studies in environmental studies focused around natural resources and also advanced studies in ESG and sustainability. So we're getting to a point where it's an attractive place to work for people that want to make a difference.  I think we're starting to head towards a bit of a solution, in the way we talk about what's essential to transition and fight climate change, and also how people can have long term opportunities. I think as well, in the past, there's been a bit of a challenge for people to transition between industries. If you worked in mining, you worked in mining, and you haven't necessarily gone into energy or haven't gone into oil and gas or haven't gone into renewables because you've worked in mining and that's what you did and that's what your friends do and there's reluctance to shift. Now I think people are more open to the understanding that they can transition their skill sets, and there's great opportunity to transition the skill set, whether it be in a technical sort of area or in the trades. There's so many technicians that have great skills working in the oil field that can transition those skills with a small amount of training or development into renewables or into mining. One of the things that prevents people wanting to make that change is sometimes the difference in salary and what you might earn in one industry not necessarily going to earn from a cash compensation point of view and another industry.  Where people do make the change, it's because they get rewarded in other ways, the intrinsic reward for being part of a solution or making some change, I think is what makes up for the change in cash compensation.

 

Luisa

Yeah absolutely - and picking up on what you said about the upskilling piece or the retraining piece and how some people can be reluctant to it because it depends on what options are available to them.  That's particularly why here at Iron & Earth we're advocating for the rapid upskilling of people so that they can take the skills that they have and start using it in the net-zero economy, right away.

 

Carl

Yeah, and also, people just don't know what they don't know, and what they need to do.  They don't know how to transition or how to pivot their career. You know, it's scary. And the people, particularly technicians, have gone on and they've done an apprenticeship that's taken four or five years and then they've been working for another five years or 10 years or 20 years and think well, ‘I want to do something different’, but they don't know where to start. It can be hard to find information on where to start and that's where organizations like Iron & Earth really are so valuable because they're a place for people to go and learn about ‘okay, what can I do, how can I do it, and what resources are available to me to be able to get some upskilling or some training’, to then be able to go on transition.

 

Luisa

Exactly. And this is really what we push for with workers to help them with that transition. But what about your own personal transition?  You're originally from Perth, living in Australia and then you moved to Canada, I believe, while you were working for one of the major recruitment firms. How did that affect you?

 

Carl

I guess I've always been a fairly nomadic person. I lived I grew up in Australia, and I left Australia in my early 20s and spent five years living and travelling around Europe and then returned to Australia.  Whilst Perth is a beautiful city and where I grew up, I was probably never going to stay there ever.  An opportunity came up to come to Canada, and often I thought ‘yeah let's go to Canada for a while’. It was something we didn't know how long - we thought a couple of years to start with - see how it goes and see what happens. You know, and it's given us given us the opportunity to experience something different and a different style of life, and different outlook on certain things and, you know, helped shaped some of my views as well around the opportunities in terms of transition to net-zero and what we can do and how we can how we can achieve that.  And so, it's been a really great journey so far.

Carl Kaufmann hiking

Luisa

So back then. What would you have done differently if you knew then what you know now?

 

Carl

I would have brought way less stuff with me! That's for sure.  We thought ‘Yeah, we'll go here for a couple of years and see what happens - maybe we'll go on somewhere else after that’.  There was and still is a plan to ultimately base somewhere in a net-zero house on the ocean, living a life that has as little impact on the environment as possible and we didn't really know where that was going to be.  We bought a massive 40ft sea container with all our stuff with us to Canada, and I think now, I probably would have cut that in half at least. So I definitely would have learned that.  What, what else would I have done differently? Oh, that's probably the only thing, really, is that I would have brought way less encumbrances with me when I came over.

 

Luisa

It's amazing how you can bring so much from your past life, that actually, when you arrive in the new place you realize ‘Oh I was okay. I was always going to be okay. I had enough with me I didn't really quite need to bring all this’.

 

Carl

Yeah, you don't need all the stuff that you think you're going to need. And, you can be quite successful without it.

 

Luisa

Yeah, and that kind of speaks to what I love about where it is that you sit - you sit kind of at the intersection of all of these varying industries, the oil and gas, the mining industry, renewables, the green sector, net-zero. And you recently launched KPO Search and Staffing Partners, a firm that helps businesses to find the right people for their teams. How does your firm help workers looking to transition away from those carbon intensive energy sources?

 

Carl

So we're a business set up with myself and two partners, we've all worked together. We wanted to start up a business where we could have a great deal of flexibility in the way we work, the companies we work with, and the industries that we focus on. We all had a strong background in mining, energy, renewables, and decarbonization. One of our partners worked significantly in mining and forestry, and the third partner has really been focused around the Canadian mining industry for quite a while.  We felt that we wanted to be able to work on those industries and within those industries, but work with companies that have very sound ESG and sustainability practices, and work with companies that are providing opportunities for First Nations and, working in a way that really focuses on responsible stewardship of the land, where the resources are based. So I guess to answer your question, if we're looking at how does our firm help workers looking to transition away from carbon intensive energy sources or energy industries, we take a pretty broad view of the background that will provide someone with the skills for success in a role for one of the companies that that we're working with. We also try and work with our clients to educate them that they don't necessarily need a person who has done exactly this job with exactly this type of company to do exactly what they need to be done or what they're trying to achieve, we try and coach them to be a bit broader thinking on where people can gather the appropriate skill set.  As an example, I'm working on a corporate innovation manager role for a mining company and this role is focused around their ESG and sustainability, policies and practices, and innovation in that area. Rather than just looking at mining companies we said look, we believe that the person with the right skill set could exist in an oil and gas company, could exist in a renewables company, is highly likely to exist within a management consultancy - these people are in so many different areas. Let's not be narrowly focused on what we're looking for, let's go out and really explore where we can find the right person from, for you. So, it provides opportunities, maybe someone that no longer wants to work for an oil and gas major and wants to move out of that environment into something that makes a difference. We will also look to try and provide advice where we can and input for people and assistance.  It can be hard to really know where to go for advice, information, or help and whilst we can't necessarily directly assist the person in their transition, we can definitely point them in the right direction and look at where they can get the information. And also, through the support that we're providing to Iron & Earth, it's an opportunity for us to try to be able to give back a little bit as well to help in that transition.

 

Luisa

Yeah, and you're 100% right.  From the Abacus poll that we ran earlier this year, what we see is that workers really can not understand how it is that their skills fit in.  And it might be like you say, they're looking at ‘square box square hole’ kind of situation, but really there's so many skills that are transferable, that can be used in different situations - it doesn't have to be exactly one for one.

 

Carl

I had a conversation - we did a podcast the other day actually - with a group, and we're talking about people that want to pivot their career, what they can do, and some of the challenges.  And a lot of it is also about individuals themselves, identifying the skills that they have and how they're appropriate for other industries.  Then when they are looking for jobs or going into an interview, they're really highlighting the transferability of their experiences and their skill set, and often people don't necessarily think about that.

 

Luisa

Yeah, absolutely. Even, for example, Canada as a whole is currently undergoing discussions for a just transition. And, like we're talking about here, you're quite passionate about transitioning away from the carbon intensive energy sources and industries. So, we've kind of touched on this a little bit, but what is it that you really see as, what is the biggest worry for workers that are transitioning, particularly towards net-zero?

 

Carl

The biggest worry, or, the biggest challenge, I think, is the worry.  It's actually the fear of the unknown. It's the concern that people have for being able to provide for their families. It's that concern that people have about how they might be viewed by their friends, family, peer group.  You know, it's pretty polarized, unfortunately - it's a pretty polarizing discussion still, you know, climate change. It amazes me that it is still polarizing because it's been proven that it is the biggest existential threat to human life on this planet - climate change - and not just global warming, not just carbon emissions, but everything we're doing, you look at plastic pollution in the oceans and the impact microplastics are having on our food chain and ultimately on our health because we're at the top of that food chain. On the way our agricultural practices and all of these things that it's huge, but it's still a really polarizing argument.  People are scared about, ‘what are my mates going to think about me’, ‘how is my family going to’, ‘my family's been working in the oil patch for three generations now, and what’s my grandfather going to say?’, these are genuine concerns that people have.  I think that's the hardest thing - the workers that actually want to transition towards working in net-zero focused industries have is fear. Fear of all those things, being able to provide for their family, fear of what their friends or family might think about them, and fear of change itself. 

 

Luisa

And what we see when we're talking to the fossil fuel industry workers is, they see the writing on the wall, they see the transition is going to happen, and they are coming from industries that have experienced the boom and bust cycles. So even that ‘stability’ in what they have been doing, it isn't really there - it doesn't really exist. So, when you're working with your clients and others, and talking with people who do have these worries, what, what positive messages do you have for them in terms of what's available in the transition, after the transition, and in this new economy that the world is really moving towards?

Carl

I guess the positive side is the opportunity, and, the stability - the opportunity for the quality of life and stability. When you think about the boom and bust cycle of the oil industry or fossil fuels in general, it's driven by this fluctuation in supply and demand, which is mostly driven by fluctuations in supply that create big price cycles.  Demand for energy is always going to be there, it's not going anywhere; we need energy to power our homes, to power our devices, to keep ourselves warm, to transport us across cities and countries and continents, so we're always going to need the energy.  The opportunity is to be part of the source of that energy and make sure the source of that energy is coming from a place that isn't going to make our air, and environmental situation any worse. We need to make sure the source of their energy is going to help solve the problem.  Where technology is amazing its very, very smart, and human beings are brilliant - we can come up with technological solutions to just about any problem if we embrace it, and focus on it, focus our time and effort towards it. And that's going to create so many opportunities. There's going to be a million jobs, I was reading a stat this morning, there’s going to be one million jobs created around renewable energy in Canada alone. You know, the opportunities are huge, so people need to not be afraid. But the unknown is scary. And you know it’s human nature to be afraid of the Dark, because people just don't know what's there. 

 

Luisa

Yeah, absolutely.  So off the back of that, what's the best advice you've ever received?

 

Carl

I've received a lot of advice, and probably haven't listened to it, maybe I should have.  There's probably two things, two bits of advice that is the best advice I've received. The first one is don't be afraid of the dark, don't be scared. Get out, take, take the opportunity, take the leap. Try something new because you're much more likely to enjoy the results then you are not. And the other thing is a piece of advice I received years and years ago - and I haven't always followed it.  When I've looked back I’ve thought, I wish I'd listened to or followed that advice, and it’s ‘Make sure that you're passionate about what you're doing, and that you're really doing what you're doing for a reason’.  There’s been times in my career where I haven't been passionate about what I've been doing in terms of my life, and I haven't been passionate about what I've been doing, and it’s never really satisfied me and never really got me anywhere. But you go to most places and get the most satisfaction when you're really doing something that you enjoy and you love and you're passionate about.  Might be hard, but in fact that's probably going to be hard because if it's worth doing, it's probably going to be hard to do. But, if you're passionate about it, you'll get the rewards.

 

Luisa

Absolutely. Well those are lovely words to finish on.  Thank-you so much, Carl, for this conversation today, I've learned a lot. I think that that's amazing advice you gave, and I'm going to try and actually live by it myself. 

 

Carl

No worries! It’s a pleasure. 

Carl Kaufmann waterfall