Energy Careers

Energy Careers - Industry Overview
By Housley Carr

InDemand Magazine

The power is out at your house, so you can't watch TV... and the fuel gauge on the car reads empty. Life without energy would not be cool.

Electricity, gasoline and other energy sources are a major part of our lives. But, for the most part, the energy that fuels our lives is out of view. We take it for granted-until we don't have it.

Luckily, a large and growing part of the work force in the United States-and across the world, for that matter-is involved in keeping energy available day in and day out.

These jobs involve things like finding oil and natural gas, extracting and delivering them to their end uses, whether it is heating a home with gas or refining crude oil into gasoline. They also involve finding and mining coal, operating the power plants and maintaining and repairing the power lines that deliver electricity to homes, schools and offices.

Best of all, the demand for energy around the world is growing. And the number of jobs to keep the energy industry humming isn't just growing, it's booming.... Within a few years, engineers with four-year degrees may earn six-figures salaries. According to a recent survey by the Society of Petroleum Engineers, petroleum engineers with a Bachelor's degree and 11 to 15 years of experience can earn nearly $90,000 a year. Those with 16 to 20 years of experience can earn more than $109,000. Petroleum engineers with Master's degrees can earn about $109,000 a year with 11 to 15 years of experience, and nearly $116,000 with 16 to 20 years of work experience in their profession.

The energy industry also needs civil, chemical, environmental, geological, mining, nuclear and seismic engineers. With big-name companies looking to hire the best graduates in these specialties, the pay-and job security can be very good.

In fact, energy industry career prospects haven't been this good for 30 years. Because of a lull in interest in energy-related careers in the 1980s and '90s, the industry "is missing an entire generation of people," says Bill Young, director of enrollment management at the Colorado School of Mines.

With large numbers of energy-industry professionals in their forties and fifties thinking about retirement, young people graduating with energy-related engineering degrees over the next few years "will have huge opportunities," Smith says.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, a "roustabout"- that is, a laborer on an oil or natural gas rig- earns $12.75 an hour, on average. A derrick operator can earn $16.75 an hour and a rotary drill operator can earn almost $18.70 an hour.

Good-paying jobs also exist at electric utilities. "It's not uncommon for someone with our two-year Associate's degree in energy technology to earn up to $15 an hour in their first job and $25 an hour within three or four years," says Barbara Hins-Turner, executive director of the Center of Excellence for Energy Technology at Centralia College, a community college in Centralia,Wash....

You can get your foot in the door at oil and natural gas companies without a college degree. "Workers can enter the oil and [natural] gas extraction industry with a variety of educational backgrounds," the Bureau of Labor Statistics says. The most common entry-level field jobs usually require little or no previous training or experience. Other entry-level positions, such as engineering technician, usually require at least a two-year Associate's degree in engineering technology....

And the range of jobs is almost unlimited. Some electric utilities now are building their first new power plants in years. Coal-mining companies like Massey Energy say that one of their biggest problems is finding enough coal-mining equipment operators to keep up with the demand for coal. Oil and natural gas companies face a similar need for workers to keep up with demand and create the next generation of energy professionals.

Emerging renewable energy technologies, like wind turbines, also need more workers. In West Texas where the wind blows consistently, hundreds of turbines are being installed to generate power that is "clean," meaning power that is generated without releasing very many pollutants into the environment.

"There is tremendous potential for young people in renewable energy," says Herman Schellstede, president of Wind Energy Systems Technology of New Iberia, La. He is planning one of the first offshore wind "farms"-with 50 turbines each 300 feet tall-in the Gulf of Mexico near Texas.

"Energy is the powerhouse of the United States," he says. "And we will always need young people" to keep that powerhouse running.