If you are interested in a career that offers job security, good pay, and a stable work environment, then a career in public utilities may be a good fit for you. This article will take a look at the best-paying jobs in public utilities. You will also learn about the education and certification requirements for a career in public utilities, why choose a career in this field, and the pros and cons of public utilities careers.
What Are Public Utility Jobs?
The public utilities industry is formulated of several government agencies that supply a wide range of essential services to the general population, including the distribution of water, electricity, gas, and all the infrastructure needed to supply them. These utilities provide a vital role in the social and economic development of the country and can be accredited with an estimated $788.7 billion in profits in 2022.
Public utilities have such a critical role in the daily life of the average American that the federal government offers grants to low-income families to assist them with energy bills in the event of financial difficulty. With a population of almost 336,000,000 citizens and counting, in 2022, the US public utility sector is a continuously evolving field with employable positions always on the rise.
Between 1,000,000 and 700,000 people are employed in the booming public utility industry. A wealth of career opportunities are available, from power plant operations and electrical engineers to project management, that can lead to well-paying jobs, especially if you have a college education.
Is Public Utilities A Good Career Path?
A person’s profession directly impacts their quality of life as it dictates their financial security, work-life balance, and mental health. Public utility workers are well-rewarded in pay, job security, and job satisfaction. Largely, public utility companies are considered cooperative or municipal, yet investor-owned utilities such as Exelon in Chicago exist in some highly populated states.
Just over 1000 of the electricity providers in America are government-run, meaning trade unions are available to fight for and defend workers’ rights and prevent job losses. Similarly, as it is such an essential sector, there is little fear of economic recess or lack of business giving employees a sense of security.
Overall, salaries in the public sector tend to be higher than those in the private sector, and that is especially true in the operations of utilities. Many entry-level jobs, such as administrative secretaries and office clerks who assist with daily operations, only require a high-school diploma and offer an average wage of $27,300.
Although you can get your foot in the door without a college degree, once you acquire higher education, specifically a specialized degree, you can unlock a much higher salary range.
The median wage of a US citizen is $58,260, whereas some of the highest-paying jobs in public utility companies top $100,000 a year! Furthermore, on a positive note for women looking to pursue a career in utilities, there is no gender pay gap in these positions empowering the female workforce with the same earning potential as their male counterparts.
Why Choose A Career In Public Utilities?
Numerous other benefits are enjoyed by those in utility services, such as paid leave, health care, life insurance, and a robust pension. Thirteen days of sick pay are issued alongside an initial 13 days’ vacation, which increases with length of service up to 26 days.
A plethora of health insurance policies are offered to employees and their families, with between 70-75% of the cost covered. Lastly, generous pension packages are supplied, offering three different methods for contribution: social security payments, Basic Benefit plans, and Thrift Savings Plans, which operate much like a 401K.
Each branch of public utility conducts itself in various settings, from power grids to gas chambers. Therefore job responsibilities, prerequisites, and pay vary massively between each utility company.
Moreover, salary bands differ from city to city, as in any country. Londoners receive 25% higher salaries than any other city in the UK. Living costs are high in states like New York, Washington, and California. Subsequently, they boast higher annual salaries.
Education And Certification Requirements For A Career In Public Utilities
A unique selling point of securing an occupation in public utilities is the potential to rise in the ranks without a college education and dodge hefty tuition fees.
Most public utility settings, such as substations, pipelines, and electricity plants, boast a range of entry-level jobs, such as driving jobs, that are relatively easy to procure without any qualifications. Of course, they are competitive within the job market.
Still, once your foot is in the door in one of these positions, you can learn on the job, with the benefit of experience, and apply for workplace-specific courses to access higher-paying jobs in the industry. Skills such as leadership or management can be improved and expanded with the assistance of programs such as the Public Power Manager Certificate Program.
On mass, the highest-paying positions in the public utilities space tend to lend themselves to management positions. Due to the appeal of these positions, sometimes the decision comes down to who possesses the most desirable CV.
In these instances, a candidate with a bachelor’s degree, especially one in their chosen field, will usually stand out against opponents who did not graduate – so, while a degree isn’t always required, it is preferable. Needless to say, some industries like nuclear power and radiation state it is mandatory for you to secure an advanced degree to access the best jobs.
Pros And Cons Of Public Utilities Careers
There is job security and coveted occupational benefits along with becoming a civil engineer. Often sociable hours can be guaranteed, even when on-call. Monetary compensation is usually applied for the inconvenience. But are there any disadvantages?
There is a fairly even split between shift work and office hours, with 9-5 hours tipping the balance just slightly. Shift work has been proven to have a negative impact on health and has even been linked to a shortened life span. It can disrupt sleep and affect the ability to concentrate. It’s imperative for shift workers to make time for adequate rest.
To achieve the highest-paying positions in public utilities, a bachelor’s in engineering or a similar discipline is required, coupled with several years of experience within your chosen field. While further education in itself can be considered a positive personal development, college tuition is simply inaccessible to many young adults without it bankrupting them and/or their families.
Within public utilities, there are many scopes to climb the ranks without a college education. However, unless the candidate is exemplary, applicants with degrees will be looked upon favorably, mainly because these roles are so competitive. One of the only ways to narrow applicants is to examine their educational history. The money and time invested into acquiring a degree can also be considered a disadvantage but will pay off in the long run.
A number of public utility positions are in dangerous industries, such as electrically charged substations and nuclear power plants. Though accidents are rare, they are still possible. Other environments may not be dangerous, but they can have an impact on one’s health, such as pipeline controllers who are exposed to noisy atmospheres that can damage hearing or, at the very least, cause significant discomfort.
Lastly, while providing essential services to your fellow residents can feel rewarding, some of the public undervalue our utility workers. Hands-on positions and roles that require waste management are considered some of the least prestigious vocations to hold, although they are integral to our comfort.
19 Best Paying Jobs In Public Utilities
Managerial positions are often the highest-paying positions in any industry. They have to coordinate large groups of people, have a strong understanding of their working environment, have problem-solving skills to combat issues that arise and have administrative capabilities to collect and organize data.
The public utility sphere is no different, with most of the best-paying positions being managerial; nonetheless, in this realm, a degree in business administration or management can assist workers in securing a supervisory position, but as we will find out, a bachelor’s degree is not always a constraint.
Some common themes run through the best jobs in public utility services, such as supervisory attributes, leadership qualities, and communication skills, so with this in mind, let’s dive a little deeper into what the best jobs in public utilities are.
1. Utility Manager
Utility Managers oversee the safe delivery of essential services such as power, sewage, electricity and water utility to a town or city.
They must work in tandem with a collection of utility providers, so comprehension of each principality is necessary to carry out this role. In addition to a broad understanding of their counterparts, utility managers must be able to translate data into practical solutions and source cheaper and more effective distribution methods where possible.
Utility managers must handle Complaints from the public while directing a team of technicians, meaning their communication skills should be admirable while delivering a satisfactory solution. A college education isn’t essential to land a job as a utility manager; however, with education and experience, the salary can differ drastically, with starting salaries of approximately $50,000 ranging up to $120,000 at prestigious sites.
2. Pipeline Controller
Our oil, water, and gas all run through pipelines from the plants they are distributed to the areas they are needed. A pipeline controller oversees all aspects of this process, from building the pipelines to liaising with other utility companies. Therefore, must possess several skills such as data collection and analysis, the ability to maintain records, good customer service, and leadership characteristics.
Pipeline controllers could also be considered project managers as they manage a team of people working on the pipelines while monitoring various metrics impacting the transportation of resources through pipelines, such as temperature and pressure. They must work beside pipeline inspectors to identify leaks and ruptures and respond quickly to emergencies to minimize damage.
Oil, water, and gas are all in high demand. Yet, demand for natural gas distribution – being a renewable energy source – is soaring, meaning pipeline controller jobs will arise in abundance in the next decade.
It is worth noting that pipeline controllers usually work shifts in a small windowless room in close proximity to the pipeline, subsequently impacting them with constant noise and vibrations. There is also the potential to be exposed to hazardous materials carried in the pipes.
Much of the training for a pipeline controller is on-the-job training allowing anyone with an excellent working knowledge of operations of pipeline systems can work their way up as a college education is not required. The salary for a pipeline controller varies based on education, company, and experience but ranges anywhere from $70,000 to $140,000.
3. Gas Controller
Ensuring the customer receives the correct oil or gas supply is among the top priorities for a gas controller. They work closely with pipe controllers to do so. They must carry out preventative maintenance on their pipelines by monitoring and responding to the pipe readings to adjust temperatures, flow rate, and pressure to avoid damage and subsequent accidents.
Gas controllers can be expected to use their knowledge of the gas and oil pipe system to develop and improve upon existing equipment. Again, the position of a gas controller doesn’t always require a degree; however, an engineering degree is advantageous. With experience and education, a gas controller can earn up to $121,375.
Electricity is vital to the day-to-day running of most 21st-century homes, despite the fact an estimated 15,000 families in the US have never been connected to the US national electric grid. Around 145,000,000 people are connected to the grid – made up of nearly 7500 power plants and transformers. Electrical plants are industrial facilities built to generate electricity from a primary energy source.
Much of this electricity is generated by nuclear energy, natural gas, and coal. Still, due to its environmentally friendly properties, there is an increased shift to renewable energy sources such as solar, hydropower, wind, and geothermal.
With electricity being essential to so many households and businesses, it’s no wonder there are numerous profitable career paths to follow in electrical utilities. The next few jobs we will look at will focus on energy production and delivery.
4. Power Plant Engineer
Power plant engineers are often considered the bridge between power plant design and manufacturing of power plants and transmitting said power. They are required to guarantee compliance with safety regulations and efficient operation. Their first-hand experience with power plants’ layouts and daily operations should facilitate innovative developments in electrical distribution systems.
Equipment maintenance also falls into the remit of a power plant engineer. Measuring customers’ electricity usage using electric metering ties into the role of a power plant engineer. Familiarity with plant designs and clear communication skills are necessary as one wrong move could prove very dangerous.
Working with electricity carries the risk of electrocution and even death which means applicants must work towards accident prevention by identifying and pre-empting any potential problems and be able to rectify them. A background in power plants and a bachelor’s degree in engineering are mandatory for this role. The median salary for a power plant engineer is $97,000.
5. Power Plant Operations Manager
Power plant engineers who have built a foundation in power plant technologies can ascend to the position of Power Plant Operations manager. This job entails monitoring workers’ efficiency and safe working practices, ensuring safety standards are adhered to. Power Plant utilities managers are also required to use preventative maintenance to stop accidents from happening but be available to give emergency responses should anything go wrong.
A vast portion of this position is encapsulated in maintenance tasks to ensure the safe daily running of the plant. This position typically requires at least five years of experience and a bachelor’s degree or an equivalent qualification. The salary ranges drastically from approximately $45,000 to over $200,00.
6. Electric Power Plant Manager
Another management role in the public utilities space is an electric power plant manager. While a power plant operations manager maintains the safe and effective running of the electric power systems, an electrical power plant manager is responsible for maintaining the rest of the plant and its employees. Instead of singling out the electrical systems within the plant, they focus on the running of the environment as a whole.
General upkeep of the building itself, such as proper functioning of heating, ventilation, cleaning, refuse disposal, security, and compliance with regulations, falls to the plant manager as well as overseeing assignments such as achieving projected targets and any significant employee issues that are escalated to management such as redundancies. Entry-level jobs in this field start at $140,00, but with experience, one can earn $170,000.
7. Substation Managers
An electrical substation facilitates the transformation of high-voltage electricity from electrical plants to lower-voltage power that can be used domestically using power converters. Substations are responsible for getting power to homes across the US. Substation managers work with a project team to design and plan power substations.
They must produce design drawings for new layouts or new electrical equipment designs. They must be able to work alongside electricians to repair transformers and faulty circuits and carry out machine maintenance. Likewise, there is a call to modernize and enhance energy distribution to make it as profitable as possible but still abide by environmental regulations meaning substation managers must possess problem-solving skills in electrical systems.
A history of power transmission systems is obligatory to achieve this, along with a degree in electrical engineering. Substation managers are rewarded handsomely for their education and experience, with an average salary of $120,000.
8. Power Transmission Engineers
Working in conjunction with substation engineers, power transmission engineers primary responsibility is to maintain and monitor electrical infrastructure. Power lines and transmission towers are the structures substations use to transmit this energy over long distances from power distributors. A bachelor’s in electrical engineering or a similar field is typically required to conduct these roles. In exchange, power transmission engineers can earn over $90,000 annually.
9. Journeyman Lineman
The job of a journeyman lineman or a power lineman is not a job for the faint of heart. They complete the installation, maintenance, and reparation of power lines. They work closely with power distribution engineers and substations to certify the smooth distribution of electricity throughout the country.
Linemen must operate under what some people consider stress-inducing conditions when working on transmission lines from transmission towers. Still, they do also work on underground wiring. For their bravery, they are rewarded with a salary upwards of $80,000.
10. Power System Engineer
Power systems engineers, comparable to power plant engineers, perform a wide range of tasks supporting the planning, design, and implementation of power systems. They determine their capacity and performance while seeking ways to optimize them.
As demand for renewable energy rises, power engineers specializing in this area will flourish. A degree in engineering is required as experience in the field, but this will be traded for a salary of over $80,000.
11. Renewable Energy Managers
Reducing energy costs and its increased proficiency is everybody’s prerogative as it benefits all parties. Cheaper energy for the consumer ensures loyal customers and sometimes larger margins for energy companies. The more proficient the energy usage is, the lesser the environmental impact. Energy managers evaluate how energy is used and subsequently design programs to increase energy proficiency and reduce costs.
Renewable energy is becoming a fast favorite within the energy industry as an alternative to fossil fuels, as fossil fuels cause significant harm to our environment and are a finite resource. We will run out of fossil fuels soon; therefore, we must harness sustainable energy sources that do not affect our planet.
Significantly and nationally, our power usage is increasing year after year. Due to their ecological properties’ energy companies are switching to renewable energy technologies. There are many seats at the table for renewable energy managers to help energy providers get the most out of renewable energy.
Renewable energy managers are required to have an advanced degree in environmental science. This cushy consultant position can earn graduates as much as $81,212.
12. Wind Farm Manager
With renewables taking the top spot for energy production, wind farms are springing up everywhere. Wind turbines are constructed and positioned in windy areas like seashores, and the kinetic energy generated by the turbines is converted into energy. The presence of wind power companies is an increasing occurrence as the renewable energy market booms.
Each site requires a manager to maintain the wind farm and ensure daily tasks are carried out without a hitch and safety regulations are followed. This is another managerial role meaning the key characteristics such as excellent leadership skills and notable efforts with team members are useful in this position. Wind site managers can expect a salary of around $97,500.
13. Solar Power Technician
One of the most popular methods of generating renewable energy is solar panels. Most renewable energy sources cannot be harnessed by the average household, but solar energy is unique in this way. Homeowners can have solar panels fitted on their rooves that absorb heat and light from the sun that can be converted into energy and directly impact their energy bills.
Some renewable energy companies are privately owned, but many large publicly run energy companies like Southern Power and Solar First exist. Solar power technicians are responsible for the fitting, maintaining, and repairing of solar panels. As a new industry, there need to be more people trained to carry out these tasks; therefore, the pay rates are much higher for those pursuing this career.
A bachelor’s degree in electrical, mechanical, or civil engineering is needed to become a solar power technician, and presently the annual wage sits at around $72,000 a year.
14. Solar Power Engineer
Solar panels are the most popular way to harness solar power to generate electricity, but solar power engineers are currently working on new ways to utilize this energy.
With research and a degree in engineering, solar power engineers are manufacturing new infrastructure to take the consumption of sunlight to the next level. They can be found in laboratories, offices, and on-site, so that this fast-paced position will keep you on your toes. Solar power engineers earn over $72,000 annually.
15. Nuclear Licensing Engineer
Although nuclear power is not a new phenomenon, licensing surrounding it is an emerging industry, with only seventeen positions advertised in 2012 across all of America. As a nuclear licensing engineer, you will be expected to offer expert advice on accreditation and regulatory requirements concerning nuclear power.
Radiation poisoning and even death are huge risks when working with nuclear power, which means nuclear plants must meet state and federal requirements which are presently ever-changing. Licensing engineers are expected to work closely with the government review board and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to keep nuclear facilities in line with these regulations. Despite the newness of this role, it can pay nearly $150,000 annually.
16. Radiation Engineer
It can be hard to conceive that nuclear power can be used to generate electricity, thus positively impacting society in the face of its dangerous associations. Nuclear energy is not entirely renewable; it is 96% recyclable and a much cleaner alternative to fossil fuels.
Radiation engineers are tasked with conducting experiments with radioactive materials to see how they interact with the materials around them and how they impact their environment. The secure transportation of nuclear fuel is also a part of this role. These investigations must be written into reports used to test and develop methodology and technology in nuclear power facilities.
Due to the dangers associated with this position, compliance with safety regulations and an advanced degree in engineering or physics must be considered for this role, as a wealth of experience in nuclear energy plants. Only candidates with the ability to focus need to apply, but if you successfully secure a job as a radiation engineer, you will enjoy an annual salary of $92,000 or more.
17. Radiation Safety Officer
Nuclear Criticality Safety Engineers are fundamental to the health and safety of employees in this industry. When correctly managed, nuclear energy plants are a safer environment to work in than coal-fuelled factories. Burning coal produces carcinogens linked to cancer, whereas there is little threat to a person’s health when working with nuclear products unless they are not handled appropriately and become unstable.
This is where radiation safety officers come into play. RSOs oversee the everyday functioning of nuclear power plants to ensure radiation technicians are protected against radiation while carrying out their duties and that the nuclear energy companies comply with the legislation in place.
Radiation safety officers are required to prevent and escalate unsafe working practices. Quality control, safety analysis reports, and adequate staff training fall under the umbrella of responsibilities for radiation safety officers. As usual, salaries range from location to location depending on experience but positions in radiation safety can fetch as much as $92,000.
18. Water Resource Engineer
Water engineers have a myriad of responsibilities. Cities and towns require reliable, safe, and clean water supplies for cooking, showering, hydrating, and even watering plants. Water engineers coordinate our wastewater and sewage to ensure household and communal waste is disposed of properly at water treatment plants.
Once at these water treatment facilities, the water is purified and redistributed to water companies once again. They collaborate with pipeline controllers designing pumping stations and systems to transport clean water and sewage.
While most of their business will be conducted in an office setting, they are often expected to respond to emergency call-outs, especially as sewage disasters can be very messy. Water engineers do not always need a bachelor’s degree though it is preferred, and they can expect a salary of around $93,500.
19. Energy Auditor
Energy auditors travel around energy-supplying companies and visually inspect the mechanical processes in place to generate energy. Many homes engage in energy audits to ensure they save on their energy bills, yet most businesses are held to Energy Star-compliant standards. They will ensure they are regularly audited to remain within these standards.
Energy auditing has many benefits and still boasts a respectable salary of up to $56,000 annually. Unlike many jobs listed here, there are no on-call hours for emergencies or requirements for fast-thinking problem solvers, which means there is less pressure and a better work-life balance.
Similarly, due to the minimal time spent in each of the venues they are called to audit, there is a less perceived danger than there is for someone who works full-time in a volatile environment. The possibilities to advance in this position are once again only increasing with the surge in renewable energy.
With roughly 1,000,000 Americans working in public utilities, it is fair to wonder what makes the position appealing. The labor can be hazardous at times, but without the arduous work of these devoted men and women, our country would come to a standstill and resemble Armageddon.
From the electrical facilitators to the clean water distributors and everyone in between, the public utilities sector is an intrinsic and fundamental part of our society. They are repaid kindly with great paid leave, family healthcare, appealing pensions, and a competitive salary.
Incredible, rewarding career opportunities to progress exist within this division with and without the need for higher education. For all the reasons mentioned above, a job in public utilities is a sought-after and admirable profession for anyone to follow.