All Things Political

Utility Industry Job Outlook

supplemental resource: Job Outlook by Profession

Employment in utilities is expected to decline; nevertheless many job openings will arise because large numbers of many workers in the industry are approaching retirement age and will need to be replaced.

Wage and salary employment in utilities is expected to decline 11 percent between 2008 and 2018, compared with an increase of 11 percent for all industries combined. Projected employment change varies by industry segment, as shown in table 4. Although electric power and natural gas continue to be essential to everyday life, the increased size and efficiency of new power plants will lead to an overall decline in employment. Water, sewage, and other systems segment of the industry, however, will continue to grow as the population of the country increases and urban areas expand.

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Employment in the electric power generation, transmission, and distribution industry is expected to decline by about 15 percent over the 2008-2018 period. Although the demand for electricity continues to increase over time, deregulation has led to greater cost-cutting measures that will allow power generation companies to be profitable in a competitive marketplace. As older, less efficient plants are retired, they are being replaced with new plants that have higher capacities and require fewer workers. Because the capacity of the new plants is higher, fewer are needed to produce the same amount of electricity. Nevertheless, some segments within electric power generation are likely to increase employment, such as nuclear power, electric transmission, and renewable energy. Should State and Federal Governments continue offering incentives to companies utilizing these technologies, employment should grow even more unimpeded.

The natural gas distribution industry is expected to decline 6 percent over the projections decade. Industry consolidation has significantly impacted this industry, a trend that is expected to continue. Use of newer, more automated equipment will result in fewer operators to monitor these systems.

Water and sewage systems services are projected to grow 13 percent, as water systems are expanding rapidly and as the industry has not yet experienced the efficiency gains seen among other utilities. Additionally, regulatory changes have benefited this industry. While most water systems remain locally-operated and fairly small in scale, water quality standards for both drinking water and disposal of wastewater have been tightened for public health and environmental reasons, requiring more workers. While hiring freezes have been less common in water than in other parts of the industry, much of the water workforce is nearing retirement age.

Job prospects. Despite overall declining employment, job prospects for qualified applicants entering the utilities industry are expected to be excellent during the next 10 years. As of 2008, about 53 percent of the utilities industry workforce is age 45 or older (table 5). Many of these workers will either retire or prepare to retire within the next 10 years. Because on-the-job training is very intensive in many utilities industry occupations, preparing a new workforce will be one of the industry’s highest priorities during the next decade.

In general, persons with college training in advanced technology will have the best opportunities in the utilities industry. Network systems and data communications analysts are expected to be among the fastest growing occupations in the professional and related occupations group, as plants emphasize automation and productivity. Many office and administrative support workers, such as utilities meter readers and bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks, are among those adversely affected by increasing automation and outsourcing. Technologies including radio-transmitted meter reading and computerized billing procedures are expected to decrease employment.

New and continuing energy policies also provide investment tax credits for research and development of renewable sources of energy and ways to improve the efficiency of equipment used in electric utilities. As a result, electric utilities will continue to increase the productivity of their plants and workers, resulting in a slowdown in new employment. This slowdown will lead to keen competition for some jobs in the industry. However, at the same time, these new technologies will create jobs for highly skilled technical personnel with the education and experience to take advantage of these developments in electric utilities.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2010-11 Edition

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