Is energy a good career path? It’s definitely one that permeates our lives more than we may know — from the water we drink to the heater we turn on in the winter to the gas we use to fuel our cars. Energy professionals are responsible for creating, operating, and maintaining these systems.
The sector is innovative and dedicated to creating a more sustainable future, with career opportunities across multiple functions. So, is energy a good career path for you?
What Jobs Are in the Energy Sector?
Jobs in the energy sector work on energy infrastructure. Energy infrastructure is any system we use to get energy, including gas, water, sewer pipelines, electric and power lines, and power plants. Those working in the energy sector will work on these systems’ construction, operation, use, or maintenance.
Historically, energy has been one of the U.S.’s fastest-growing industries. While growth in this career path slowed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the energy sector has picked up again and grew 4% in 2021, higher than the overall U.S. employment growth of 2.8%.
Types of Energy Careers
While all energy jobs are about powering the systems we use today, jobs in energy span multiple types of careers, from more skilled trades to engineering to sales to law. Some energy careers include:
- Electrical engineer
- Energy sales consultant
- Environmental engineer
- HVAC (Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) installer
- Industrial engineer
- Mechanical engineer
- Motor vehicle manufacturer
- Nuclear engineer
- Power plant operator
- Solar panel installer
- Solar sales consultant
- Sustainability consultant
- Water treatment specialist
Entry-Level Jobs in Energy
Entry-level jobs in this sector are similar to the most common types of energy roles, just typically junior versions of the more advanced positions. Some entry-level positions will be more administrative or operational than their senior counterparts.
For example, an entry-level professional analyst working in renewable energy might focus on collecting data about energy use. The senior-level professional would then use this data to decide where to invest their company’s efforts. Both professionals work with energy data, but the entry-level role is more functional and requires more junior data collection and analysis skills. At the same time, the senior level is focused on market trends and strategy.
Entry-level job titles in energy include:
- Wind turbine technician
- Junior electrical engineer
- Maintenance technician
- Solar energy consultant
- Energy market analyst
- Research technician
- Associate chemist
If you’re interested in getting into the field, Christin Sun, deputy energy efficiency portfolio manager at MD Energy Advisors, recommends getting exposure to the industry first. While internships are a more traditional path to the field, “students can also look into various volunteer programs with their local utilities or utility partners as a way to network with business professionals in the space,” she says.
Matt Chester, energy analyst, founder of Chester Energy and Policy, and Forage content consultant, highly encourages connecting with professionals in the sector to help get you started.
“We are all so passionate about energy and creating a brighter future with it that you’ll hear more yes’s than not to get on a call to meet, network, provide advice, and more,” he says.
What Do Energy Jobs Pay?
People working in energy are more likely to be unionized and paid higher wages.
On average, wages for energy jobs are 34% higher than the median wages in the U.S., according to the United States Energy and Employment Report 2021.
However, average pay varies greatly depending on what kind of energy work you do. For example, an electrical engineer earns an average salary of $107,890 a year, while a welder earns an average of $47,010 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Best-Paying Jobs in Energy
The best-paying jobs in energy are typically those that involve engineering, science, or high-level operations. However, these jobs also require more advanced degrees and technical skills.
Some of the best-paying jobs in energy, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, are:
- Architectural/engineer manager: $152,350 per year
- Aerospace engineer: $122,270 per year
- Petroleum engineer: $130,850 per year
- Chemical engineer: $105,550 per year
- Atmospheric and space scientists: $96,880 per year
- Mechanical engineer: $95,300 per year
- Power plant operator: $94,790 per year
Pros and Cons of Energy Careers
An energy career can take you in many different directions, but there are common pros and cons that can help you answer, “is energy a good career path for me?”
Helping Build a Sustainable Future
Many professionals in the energy industry are working toward cleaner, more sustainable energy solutions.
“That shared goal means we’re all working collaboratively towards these solutions and a brighter future, and that environment makes it really motivating to work alongside so many brilliant and passionate people as colleagues rather than a zero sum game that feels like a competition,” Chester says.
Not only does the energy impact the environment, but the sector is “truly at the heart of our economy, our culture, and our communities,” says Rebecca Foster, CEO of VEIC, a nonprofit organization focusing on energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Energy touches nearly every aspect of our lives, “from an anchor employer’s ability to stay competitive and keep providing jobs in small, rural towns to an urban school district’s ability to improve indoor air quality and lower asthma rates by adopting efficient classroom ventilation systems and electric school buses,” Foster says. “Making our buildings and transportation options more efficient saves people money, improves air quality, lowers greenhouse gas emissions, and helps keep local businesses competitive.”
With more developments in clean energy technologies and solutions, there’s always an opportunity to work on something new and challenge tradition.
“Innovation is critical to the success of the energy sector,” Sun says. “It can be challenging for organizations to adopt new technologies, but the rising cost of energy shines a spotlight on new ways to reduce waste and be more efficient.”
Low Barrier to Entry
While specific jobs in the energy field require special education, there’s no specific degree — or a degree at all — you need to break into the industry.
“Scaling up clean energy takes all disciplines and fields of study, from marketing to computer science to business to history,” Foster says. “I have a B.A. in Psychology and an MBA and those degrees have been excellent preparation for my work leading VEIC. But if college isn’t for you, we also have programs for those wanting to learn a trade. There is a place for all types of skills in this field.”
Depending on your role in energy, there can be some risk when it comes to on-site work. For example, jobs in construction and operations come with more dangerous working conditions, especially when dealing with electricity and heavy machinery.
While this is also a pro because of the exciting new career opportunities it can bring, staying updated on the industry as it develops can be time-consuming and even stressful.
“It can be challenging to keep up with rapidly changing regulations and technologies, which requires continual professional development,” says Ryan Collier, renewable heating expert and company director of Heat Pump Source, an air source and ground source heat pump company.