With the Space Set for Transformation, Is Public Utilities a Good Career Path?

It’s not always the obvious choice as a career path. Firms behind utilities after all tend to be “old fashioned, lacking innovation and slow to adapt”, as consultancy firm Deloitte puts it. But times are changing.

Utilities, the companies behind the distribution of the basic necessities for economic and social development today — water, electricity, and telecommunications — are in a transition period as new technologies emerge to make their services more available, efficient, and sustainable for the changing demands of their consumers.

If you are wondering if public utilities is a good career path, you have come to the right place. Below we share the usual jobs available in this space, and what each role requires so you can snag these positions once they become available.

What Are the Best Public Utilities Jobs

Electrical Engineer

An electrical engineer is the one responsible for the design of a distribution system of an electrical utility company. They also lead technical teams to spearhead system planning and system improvement works. They must be agile and prescient to ensure that the distribution system is up and running 24/7.

If that sounds like something that excites you, you must be prepared for years of study. An electrical engineer for a utility company is expected to have a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. Utility companies also prefer to have licensed electrical engineers. Depending on where a utility company is based, an electrical engineer must pass a specialized exam to earn a license to practice engineering in the area.

In the US, an engineer must usually have at least four years of working experience first before one can take a licensure exam.

Water Resource Engineer

Water resource engineers are responsible for the design and operations of a water supply infrastructure. In that case, such an engineer could be working for a water distribution company or a water treatment facility. And in both cases, the engineer is in charge of ensuring that the design of the system responsible for these facilities can withstand the demands of consumers, and other unforeseen man-made and natural events.

A degree in civil engineering is usually the minimum requirement to become a water resource engineer. Some utility firms also prefer those with a Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering, as a water resource engineer role requires a lot of technical knowledge on working in the natural environment to be effective.

Environmental Specialist

An environmental specialist is responsible for ensuring that a utility company remains compliant with environmental laws when it implements its projects. Such a role demands that the specialist has a background in civil engineering, to understand, too, the technical requirements of a project. An environmental specialist may also be responsible for developing strategies and methodologies so a company may implement its environmental projects.

A bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering, or environmental science is usually required to be an environmental specialist. Companies also usually prefer those with a background in leadership roles, as he or she would be sought to coordinate with various teams and government offices so a utility firm is compliant with all the necessary environmental laws that may cover them.

Operations Manager

An operations manager is responsible for the coordination of activities of a utility company. He or she must plan and organize all tasks, projects, and meetings among the various teams and departments of a utility firm to ensure that they deliver their tasks seamlessly.

It’s a job that requires not just technical knowledge of a utility firm’s functions — whether that be for water or electricity. An operations manager must also have management, managerial and financial skills. On top of managing the people behind the utility firm, he or she must also be comfortable in handling the company’s operations budget.

Depending on where a utility firm is based, an operations manager must secure licenses from the authorities or from the regulator of the said utility. In Texas, for example, an operations manager of the local government’s water utilities department is required to obtain a license from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. A government office with a similar function may demand such when it comes to an operations manager of an electric utility.

Such a manager, however, must at least have a civil engineering degree so he or she may understand the projects of the teams he or she would be handling. A degree in business administration may also be preferred by some utility companies as the role demands managerial skills.

Renewable Energy Specialist

As the government adopts more clean energy over fossil fuels, a specialist on the subject would be one of the more in-demand roles in an electrical utility company.

A renewable energy specialist would be responsible to provide the technical knowledge demanded of an electrical utility firm on the subject. This could mean that he or she must be knowledgeable of the laws on the subject, the permitting requirements in the adoption of such technology, and the latest developments in the industry.

A utility firm usually demands a bachelor’s degree in economics, environment, or engineering. What matters more for many utility companies is the experience and knowledge of the industry, as such a role demands that the specialist is adept in renewable energy.

Why You Should Get a Job in Public Utilities

A career in public utilities would not only mean being part of a public good, but it would also mean career stability. These firms are required to function for public service, so the jobs in this sector would always be in demand.

Opportunities

Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 47,000 jobs are available in the next decade for civil, electrical, and environmental engineers. Note, however, that these jobs are not always for public utilities. But these are the specialists that public utility firms usually require among their staff. 

Compensation

Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for electrical engineers was $100,420 in May 2021, while environmental engineers and civil engineers were paid $96,820 and $88,050 during the same period, respectively.

A renewable energy specialist is not a listed job in the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but a job posting in the State of Hawaii showed they are willing to pay one for at least $70,000 a year.

Outlook

The same Bureau projects that employment in the public utilities sector would grow an average of 3% from 2019 to 2029. As of May 2020, about 558,000 people are employed by the industry.

That may not be an encouraging growth rate, but the large base of workers in the sector inspires confidence that there will be demand for more.

Besides, as Deloitte says, utility companies must be competitive in pay, and in employee experience to ensure it attracts the best talent. Engineers and specialists in public utilities would be in demand in the coming years as the industry is set for transformation.

Water utility companies, for example, must prepare for the effects of climate change on their operations. Similarly, electric utility companies must now adopt more clean energy solutions to be compliant with state laws.

That these roles are in demand is also good news for those who wish to be part of the public utilities sector, as this means the experience they will gain in these roles will be valuable in case they pivot to the private sector. A renewable energy specialist who worked in government, for example, would certainly be attractive to a private firm.

As the industry is in a state of flux, continuous learning would be appreciated, and may even be required by utility companies. Most roles, too, require that they hold a driver’s license for logistics purposes. It may be a good idea to start learning how to drive now on top of earning those education degrees and certificates.

A Job for Public Service

A job in the public utilities sector truly demands a person who is willing to do more and be more, for public service. It may be daunting and exhausting, as it requires being in charge of services that are demanded by millions every day. It’s a job that could make or break lives and is not for the faint of heart.

But the payoff could be a fulfilling career that allows you to have a well-paying, stable livelihood and a priceless experience filled with technical skills and know-how.

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