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Is Public Utilities a Good Career Path? (Jobs, Pay, Companies)

Discover career potential in public utilities—explore jobs, pay structures, and key companies. Make informed decisions for a rewarding path in this industry.

By 

Synkdup Editorial Team   

|  21 February 2024

Is Public Utilities a Good Career Path

Is public utilities a good career path? Yes, if you are someone who would derive fulfillment from doing work that directly contributes to making people’s daily lives easier. Because, as someone working in public utilities, you would be working to maintain the availability of crucial resources like running water, electricity, and gas to people.

It can also be a great career path for someone who likes working with their hands. From electricians and plumbers to linemen and repair workers, the sector includes all kinds of professions that involve manual work, both skill-intensive and unskilled. For this reason, it can also be an ideal career path for people who do not want a sedentary lifestyle with long hours of sitting at a desk.

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It can also be perfect for people for whom job security is the top priority when choosing the right career path. Public utility operators are indispensable even in the worst economic times, as they provide us with essential services that we can’t do without. During the pandemic, for instance, the sector was among the ones to witness the fewest job losses.

What is Public Utilities

There are certain basic physical resources that we need on a daily basis to live our lives comfortably with a decent standard of living. These include things like water supply, gas supply, waste removal, electricity, and telecommunications.

Public utilities is the umbrella term for the enterprises that are primarily involved in ensuring that these essential services are readily available to people every day without fail. They are commonly called utility companies and include private as well as government organizations, often working in collaboration. The four main sectors in the industry are:

Water Supply

A lot of work goes into having clean, running water in our taps all the time. From the management of water resources like rivers and reservoirs to the maintenance of distribution infrastructure like pumping stations and water mains, it is a really elaborate endeavor.

Processes like treating the water to make it fit for use through filtration, chemical treatment, etc, and ensuring its reliable supply through the water pipeline network are some of the commonly known functions of the sector.

Gas Supply

Natural gas is extracted from deposits deep inside the earth and then, after a long process, transmitted through high-pressure pipelines to homes and office buildings. Gas extraction, processing, storage, distribution, and metering and measurement are the major operations in the industry.

This sector creates a wide variety of jobs at extraction sites, processing plants, compressor stations, storage facilities, and other components of the gas distribution system. As natural gas is most widely used for heating purposes, the industry is busiest in places with cold climates.

Electricity

This sector functions to ensure the constant availability of electric power in residential, commercial, and other buildings. The generation, transmission, and distribution of electric power are the primary functions of the sector. It also involves maintaining the electricity infrastructure and restoring electricity whenever there is a power cut.

The kind of employment opportunities the sector generates varies a lot depending on the way in which electricity is generated. Electricity may be generated from fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil), renewable energy sources (wind, solar, biomass, and hydro), or geothermal energy.

Waste Removal

This sector is crucial for maintaining a clean environment and safeguarding public health. It primarily involves effective waste collection, transportation, and disposal to prevent the gathering of waste, which can lead to the spread of diseases.

Sewage disposal is also a major component of the sector. It involves the management of sewage infrastructure, including sewerage networks, pumping stations, and treatment plants. The treatment of wastewater before it is released into water bodies is crucial to minimizing pollution and conserving the environment.

Telecommunications

This sector is responsible for making essential communication services available to people. It includes both mobile and landline communication, as well as internet connection services.

Common functions in the sector include establishing and maintaining the infrastructure required for landline telephone services, like the installation of telephone lines, and managing cellular networks for mobile phone communication. Providing broadband services, including DSL, fiber optic, and wireless internet connections, is also an important part of this sector.

Why Choose a Career in Public Utilities

When it comes to choosing a career path, every industry has some advantages that make it appealing to certain individuals. Jobs in some industries offer a lot of time off, some involve lots of travel opportunities, and some offer a great work-life balance.

Benefits like these can be the key reason why someone chooses to work in a particular industry, and public utilities is no different. Here are some of the most important benefits of working in the industry if you are wondering, "Is working in public utilities a good career path?".

Job Security

Public utilities are essential services that people need every day; you cannot do without water or electricity for a single day. So, there is always a sustainable demand for people working in the public utilities industry, and they have more stable jobs than employees in many other industries. Working in this industry, you can expect a long and dependable career with high job security, even in economically unstable times.

Job Satisfaction

Working in the industry allows you to serve the community by providing people with essential services. Your work directly impacts the well-being of others and makes their daily lives easier. Even if your work is hard, you can find fulfillment in knowing that it makes a positive difference in people’s lives. Not only can this lead to greater job satisfaction, but it can also make you feel a stronger connection to the community and have a positive effect on other aspects of your life as well.

Wide Range of Opportunities

The industry offers a wide range of blue-collar as well as white-collar employment opportunities. You can easily get a job in the industry with just a high school diploma, as there are plenty of entry-level jobs available. Front-line workers like linemen and repair workers are as important a part of public utilities as engineers and managers.

There are jobs that require specialized formal education, and there are those for which you just need to complete an in-house apprenticeship. Whether you want a desk job or want to be outdoors doing manual work, the industry has a job for you.

How Many Jobs are Available in Public Utilities

The Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that there are more than 360,000 people currently working in the public utilities sector in the U.S. These people work in various roles in different areas, including engineering, administration, customer service, accounting, and so on.

According to a report by IBISWorld, the largest number of jobs in public utilities are available in electric power generation, electric power transmission, and the natural gas supply industry.

The occupational fields with the most types of job roles in the industry are administration and engineering.

Power plant manager, network manager (telecommunications), customer service manager, and regulatory compliance manager are some of the common administrative jobs in utilities.

Common engineering jobs in the industry include electrical engineer, civil engineer, mechanical engineer, power systems engineer, hydrologist, pipeline engineer, and telecommunications engineer.

What Do Public Utility Jobs Pay

How much you can earn at a job in utilities depends on your specific job role, your experience level, the city, and the organization you work for. As jobs in the industry encompass a wide range of occupations, the yearly salary in utilities can range from 24,500 - 123,500. However, the average yearly salary for utility jobs in the U.S. is estimated to be around $53,000.

The best-paying jobs in the industry are, of course, those that require specialized education and certifications. After managerial jobs, pipeline controllers, and engineers tend to be the best-paid employees in public utilities, earning up to $78,000 a year.

Senior executives in different sectors of public utilities can earn up to $150,000 a year. Middle management positions, such as unit supervisor and coordinator, on average pay up to $82,000. Starter-level jobs of various kinds, from trade jobs to unskilled labor, usually pay $16-30 an hour.

In addition to the good pay, though, job stability and career advancement opportunities in the industry are also important factors that make public utility jobs lucrative.

10 Best Paying Jobs in Public Utilities

There are many well-paying professions within the public utilities field, an overview of which might better answer the question, "Is public utilities a good career path ?" for you.

So, here is a list of the most common jobs in public utilities that tend to pay the highest.

1. Power System Dispatcher

(Average annual salary in the U.S. $96,520)

The job of power system engineers includes a number of functions revolving around ensuring the efficient operation of the electrical power system to help meet the energy needs of consumers. Due to the critical nature of the electrical power system, it is considered a demanding and responsible role.

Primarily, a power systems engineer in public utilities is responsible for maintaining the stability and performance of the electrical grid. They assess the load requirements of their network and the capacity of the electric system to determine how to best meet the electricity demand of their area.

A bachelor’s degree is the basic educational qualification for this role. Some positions may also require a master's in electrical engineering with a focus on power systems.

2. Pipeline Controller

(Average annual salary in the U.S. $94,937)

Pipeline controller is another job of a critical nature. Pipeline controllers monitor and coordinate pipeline operations in different sectors of public utilities. They are responsible for ensuring the safe and efficient transportation of things like water and natural gas through pipelines.

Pipeline controllers look for leaks, ruptures, or other issues and track parameters like pressure, flow rate, and temperature to avoid mishaps. They also work closely with maintenance personnel to identify and rectify issues with the pipeline network. They play a crucial role in ensuring safety and compliance with regulatory standards.

A bachelor’s degree, preferably in science, is the minimum qualification required for this role. The role also involves extensive on-the-job training.

3. Control Room Operator

(Average annual salary in the U.S. $72,000)

This job involves monitoring and controlling the workings of a system from a centralized control room. A control room operator in public utilities may work at a power grid, water treatment plant, natural gas pipeline network, or telecommunications enterprise.

Control room operators continuously monitor the performance and status of an operation through various control panels, displays, and computer systems. They look out for any abnormal conditions and take timely steps to fix the problem. They play a critical role in coordinating response efforts in cases of emergencies like natural disasters, accidents, and equipment failures.

The educational requirements for this role may vary considerably from job to job, though a bachelor’s is the minimum requirement in most cases.

Relevant certifications include the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) System Operator Certification and the International Society of Automation (ISA) Certified Automation Professional (CAP) certification.

4. Power Plant Engineer

(Average annual salary in the U.S. $96,000)

A power plant engineer in public utilities works at different kinds of power plants that generate electricity, whether it is hydroelectricity, fossil fuels based, biomass, wind, or solar energy.

Power plant engineers design power generation systems and monitor them to ensure they operate smoothly. Conducting routine inspections and coordinating maintenance activities is a big part of their job. They collaborate with cross-sectional teams to ensure the power plant runs in a safe manner and in compliance with all safety regulations.

They identify areas of improvement in the plant and develop strategies to enhance efficiency. It is also their job to come up with ways to minimize emissions from the power plant and make it more environment-friendly.

You would typically need a master’s degree in an engineering field to get a job in this role. Though, you might be able to get a job with a bachelor's as well if you have a relevant certification like Certified Energy Manager (CEM) or Certified Power Plant Professional (CPP).

5. Water Treatment Specialist

(Average annual salary in the U.S. $71,019)

Water treatment specialists work in a water treatment plant and play a vital role in the process of purifying water to make it safe for use. They specialize in processes like filtration, disinfection, coagulation, flocculation, and chemical treatment of water.

They perform quality testing on water and use different methods to measure things like pH levels, dissolved solids, and microbial content. They also perform tasks like equipment inspection, documentation, and troubleshooting problems.

Additionally, they need to collaborate with other professionals like chemists, engineers, and operators regularly and communicate with regulatory authorities to ensure portable water meets set standards.

A bachelor’s degree in environmental chemistry, chemical engineering, environmental science, or a related field is mandatory for this position.

6. Utility Engineer

(Average annual salary in the U.S. $91,748)

A utility engineer works to design, develop, and maintain the utility infrastructure of an establishment. They ensure that systems involving heating, ventilation, water supply, wastewater management, electricity, air conditioning, etc. in a building/community keep functioning optimally. These systems are called utility systems, and utility engineers oversee the design, operation, and maintenance of these systems.

They access the requirements of a project and develop the plan for utility systems accordingly. They also develop and implement strategies to reduce the energy consumption and cost of these systems. Additionally, they are involved in obtaining permits for utility projects and also conduct inspections to ensure adherence to regulations.

The typical educational requirement for this role is a bachelor's degree in an engineering discipline such as civil, electrical, or mechanical engineering.

7. Wind Turbine Technician

(Average annual salary in the U.S. $56,260)

Wind turbine technicians are skilled professionals responsible for the installation, maintenance, and repair of wind turbines used for generating electricity. They perform a variety of functions at a wind power plant involved in harnessing wind energy to produce electricity.

They are responsible for detecting problems and fixing them when the turbines malfunction. They conduct routine inspections of the wind turbines, oversee the lubrication of moving parts, and conduct electric testing. They are also required to climb towers for inspection.

Additionally, their job involves gathering data on the performance of turbines, which is used to generate reports that help optimize the electricity generation process. They also need to collaborate a lot with other professionals, including other technicians, engineers, and supervisors on a regular basis.

The job typically requires a bachelor’s degree in energy engineering, mechanical engineering, or a related field of engineering from an ABET-accredited program.

8. Water Resources Engineer

(Average annual salary in the U.S. $85,187)

Water resources engineers ensure the water resources used to make running water available to people are managed in an optimal manner. They specialize in the planning, design, and management of infrastructure and systems related to water resources.

A major part of the job of a water resources engineer revolves around the assessment, development, and conservation of water resources. They also work on the design and management of water supply systems, including reservoirs, water treatment plants, pumping stations, and so on.

Additionally, they work on flood management, stormwater control, irrigation, and agricultural water management. They design and develop levees, dams, drainage systems, and irrigation systems.

The basic educational requirement for this role is a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.

9. Radiation Engineer

(Average annual salary in the U.S. $120,380)

A radiation engineer in public utilities works in power plants where nuclear energy is used to generate electricity. Radiation engineers play a critical role in ensuring that these operate in accordance with regulatory standards to ensure safety and environmental protection.

They conduct routine inspections to monitor the levels of nuclear radiation in and around the nuclear facility. They are also responsible for developing emergency response plans and procedures to address a potential radiation mishap. Additionally, they are involved in the proper handling, storage, and disposal of radioactive waste generated in the facility.

They also need to stay updated on changing regulations and work closely with regulatory authorities.

The minimum educational requirement for this role is a bachelor’s degree in engineering, chemistry, or physics.

10. Telecommunications Network Planner

(Average annual salary in the U.S. $75,932)

Network planners play a crucial role in providing reliable communication services to people. They design the infrastructure of a telecommunications network and ensure its efficient operation at all times. It may be a landline, broadband, or wireless network.

It is their job to determine the placement and configuration of the components of a network, such as switches, routers, and servers, to create an optimal network design. They are required to work closely with engineers, technicians, vendors, and project managers to understand requirements and develop efficient network plans.

They are responsible for evaluating the need for additional infrastructure like towers, cables, etc. They also work on network expansion projects and incorporate upgrades into the existing network.

You need to have at least a bachelor’s degree in IT, systems engineering, telecom, or a related field for this job.

How To Get a Job in Public Utilities

If you have found the answer to the question ‘’Is public utilities a good career path for me?" in the affirmative, now you are probably wondering how to get a job in the industry. Well, it is no different from getting a job in any other industry – you decide on a profession, get the required qualifications, and start applying for jobs.

The job you are trying to get may require prior experience, and you need to be patient and open to taking internships/apprenticeships, even if they are unpaid. And if it is an entry-level job, it is probably going to involve extensive manual work, and it is always advisable to consider how physically demanding the job is going to be before deciding on it.

You also need to consider whether you would like to work in the public or private sector, as the former makes up a big part of public utilities. Based on your jurisdiction, you might need to fulfill certain specific eligibility criteria to get a government job, so be mindful of that.

A job hunt, especially when you are new in the industry, can be a challenging process, and a little guidance can be of great help. Here are a few quick tips you should keep in mind while looking for a job.

  • Research Organizations: Find out what organizations generally have jobs in the profession you want to pursue. If you have a particular subsector like telecommunications or natural gas in mind, start by researching the top organizations in the sector. Your end goal should be to make a list of your top preferred companies so you can focus your efforts on them.
  • Utilize Online Resources: Even if you can’t find your right fit on various job search websites and LinkedIn at the moment, don’t give up on these online platforms. Keep checking them regularly. To amp up your online search, you can even use your social media like Facebook and Instagram to connect with people in the industry.
  • Optimize your application: You may be sending out a lot of job applications back to back but that shouldn’t be an excuse not to write them well. Write your resume and cover letter in a professional way, and always customize the latter to the specific organization you are applying to. Remember to put your best foot forward and include any relevant skills or experience that are transferable to the job you are applying to.
  • Let Your Friends in on Your Job Search: Let your friends and family know what job you are looking for. Especially if you are looking for a trade job like a plumber or technician. Maybe the next time your friend has a plumber or electrician come over to fix something, they will ask them if they know of a job opportunity for you. Don't underestimate the power of old-school networking.
  • Improve Your Credentials: Try to get relevant certifications or training under your belt while you are applying for jobs. It might be a while before you get a job, and so, it would be a smart move to use the time until then to improve your credentials and become better qualified to land a job.

What Companies are in the Public Utilities Field

Here’s a list of the top public utility companies in the USA:

1. American Electric Power

(Average annual salary pay $80,751)

Popularly known as AEP, American Electric Power is one of the largest electricity companies in America. Its headquarters are in Columbus, Ohio, and it serves millions of consumers in eleven states, mostly in the Midwest and South regions of the US. These include Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. The company employs more than 17,000 people.

2. AES Corporation

(Average annual pay $85,726)

Commonly known as AES, AES Corporation is an American power generation company with a global presence. The company is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, and currently operates in North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. It is the largest private energy generator in the world and owns and operates 150 power plants. AES employs more than 11,000 people in 15 countries worldwide.

3. Verizon

(Average annual pay $91,284)

Headquartered in New York City, Verizon is a leading telecommunications company in the U.S. It provides T.V. and cellular broadband services to more than 143 million customers across the U.S. It operates one of the largest wireless networks in the U.S., and popular names like BlueJeans, Visible, and Skywalk are all Verizon subsidiaries. It employs about 118,000 people.

4. Edison International

(Average annual pay $102,015)

Headquartered in Rosemead, California, Edison International provides a wide range of energy services including electricity, gas, and renewable energy services to customers across the U.S. It also operates in countries like Chile, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Through its subsidiaries, Edison International provides environmental-friendly and reliable energy services to more than 15 million customers. The company employs more than 12,000 people.

5. Southern Company

(Average annual pay $90,024)

Southern Company is America’s second-largest public utility company. It is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, and is primarily a gas and electric utility holding company. It is gradually expanding its business into renewable energy, i.e., solar and wind energy. Its most renowned subsidiaries include Georgia Power Company, Alabama Power Company, and Mississippi Power Company. It operates in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, Virginia, and Tennessee and has about 31,000 employees.

6. Pinnacle West Corporation

(Average annual pay $75,000)

Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Pinnacle West Corporation is an investment company that owns and operates electric utility companies in Arizona. It owns Bright Canyon Energy and Arizona Public Service Company. The latter is the largest electricity provider in Arizona. Pinnacle West Corporation provides reliable and affordable electric energy to about 1.3 million customers. It has about 6,000 employees.

7. AT&T

(Average annual pay $94,869)

AT&T (American Telephone and Telegraph Company) is a multiindustry holding company, headquartered in Texas and operating multi-nationally. It is the world’s largest provider of telephone services (by revenue) and the third-largest mobile phone service provider in the U.S. And, after Comcast, AT&T is the largest provider of pay television in the U.S. It also provides broadband services and employs about 203,000 people.

8. America Water Works

(Average annual pay $75,776)

Headquartered in Camden, New Jersey, American Water Works is the largest publicly owned water and wastewater company in the U.S. Through its different subsidiaries, it provides water supply and wastewater management services all over the diverse geographical regions of America, serving about 24 million people. American Water Works employs more than 6,000 people.

9. Pacific Gas and Electric Company

(Average annual pay $89,237)

Headquartered in San Francisco, California, PG&G is one of the largest publicly held utility companies in the U.S. The majority of the population of California, which is the most populous state in the U.S. relies on PG&G for electricity and gas supply. It provides electricity to 16 million people in northern and central California. Its vast electricity transmission network spans around 70,000 square miles. It employs about 23,000 people.

10. Duke Energy

(Average annual pay $90,000)

Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Duke Energy is one of the leading electricity and natural gas providers in the U.S. It serves over 8 million consumers in the Eastern U.S. and the lower Midwest, including North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. It employs about 52,700 people.

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