Industry Outlook

The coronavirus pandemic, which started in late 2019, has had a major impact on most businesses, including utilities companies, throughout the world. The economic slowdown caused many companies to cut their budgets and reduce staff. The research group IBISWorld projected a revenue decline in the U.S. utilities sector of nearly 5 percent in 2020 alone. This drop was anticipated because of a decrease in the price of electric power and the volatile price of natural gas in 2020. The accelerated distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 will boost the economy and speed up recovery for the utilities industry, with revenue expected to grow by 9.6 percent in 2021, and steady growth is expected through 2026. Moving forward, industry performance will be determined by "trends in electric power demand, the price of electric power, pricing trends of the various resources used to generate electricity, and changes in the price of natural gas." Deloitte predicts that the utilities and power industry will be focused on these five trends as the pandemic comes to an end: consolidation of the regulatory landscape, creating new economies, reinventing battery business models, scaling up with new entrants and frontiers, and fortifying the industry for disaster readiness. As of early 2021, there were 32,782 businesses and 671,682 employees in the U.S. utilities industry.

In general, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of jobs in the electric power generation, transmission, and distribution industry will grow by about 6.4 percent by 2028. Although the demand and usage of electricity is expected to increase, the industry is increasing its efficiencies so that any increase in workload related to that usage can be handled by existing employees. There are many workers in the industry, however, who are reaching retirement age. Retirements will account for many openings in the coming years.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are more than 547,100 workers employed in the utility industry, including power and water utility companies. Approximately one-fourth of all employees in the industry are union employees. According to the BLS, nearly 27 percent of the workforce are installation, maintenance, and repair workers.

Workers in electric power generation, transmission, and distribution earned mean annual wages of $84,280 in 2019, according to the BLS, and most employees work full time. The Bureau reports that as of May 2019, the median hourly wage for all utility industry employees was $39.15, which translated to $81,432 per year. The number of jobs at power plants is also expected to decline, by about 6 percent, through 2028. The average annual salary for these workers was $85,950 in 2019.

When it comes to the natural gas industry, workers may find more jobs on the extraction and transmission side of the business rather than the distribution and service side. This is because there is a growing trend toward converting the energy demands of the United States to natural gas, including fuel for vehicles, and new technologies, especially fracturing, have enabled suppliers to extract natural gas from previously inaccessible areas, such as underground shale rock formations. The Natural Gas Supply Association reports that fracturing, horizontal drilling, and natural gas projects will contribute to job growth in the coming years. Employment in natural gas distribution, however, may decline. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for all gas plant operators in the natural gas industry as of 2019 was $75,060.

In general, U.S. energy consumption is expected to increase through 2040, according to the Energy Information Administration, and natural gas production is expected to increase annually through 2040. Net imports are also expected to increase, primarily from Canada. As of 2019, there are five export terminals for liquefied natural gas operating in the United States.

Water utilities employ about 123,730 plant and system operators. These workers earned average annual wages of $47,760 in 2019. Employment is expected to decline by 5 percent for all water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators through 2028, according to the BLS. Opportunities will be best for those with training or higher education in water or wastewater systems and good mechanical skills.