Energy’s Future Is Looking Pretty Sunny

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The newly published 2019 U.S. Energy & Employment Report reveals that the fuels and electric-power-generation sectors employ nearly 2 million people. It’s a wealth of data not just on what people do in energy, but also on where employers foresee growth and hiring tightness. A few trends jump out — including that, even in the oil patch, services jobs are a growth industry.

In order to explore that services dynamic, it’s important to start with the scale of employment in the three main fuels sectors: oil, gas and coal. One of these sectors, petroleum, is far bigger than the others, employing more than 600,000 people. Gas and coal together employ only 345,000.

Energy’s Future Is Looking Pretty Sunny

Mining and extraction jobs make up more than half of total employment in each fuel sector; in coal, it’s nearly three-quarters. One-fourth of all petroleum-related employment is in services; in coal, the figure is barely half that much.

Energy’s Future Is Looking Pretty Sunny

The report also examines each sector’s hiring difficulties over the past 12 months, but by industry within fuel type. Regroup them by industry across fuels — as I have done here — and some useful trends emerge.

The first trend is that mining and extraction are relatively hard jobs to fill in every fuel. However, it’s hardest in gas; it’s easiest in coal, where 50 percent of jobs are filled without any difficulty.

Energy’s Future Is Looking Pretty Sunny

In wholesale trade, distribution and transport, hiring is even more difficult across the board, but it is most difficult in gas.

Energy’s Future Is Looking Pretty Sunny

It’s pretty much equally difficult to hire for professional-services roles regardless of fuel type.

Energy’s Future Is Looking Pretty Sunny

That finding led me to another useful set of survey data: employers’ expectation of employment growth in 2019. While the bulk of jobs in each of these fuels is in mining and extraction, employers expect the fastest growth in services. The natural gas sector expects significant growth in wholesale trade, distribution and transport as well.

Energy’s Future Is Looking Pretty Sunny

It’s worth looking, too, at employment in power generation. Here, the sectors are smaller, but the figures raise some useful questions for employers seeking new hires and policymakers seeking to shore up workforces.

By technology, solar is now the biggest employer in the power-generation sector. Solar employs 242,000 people; wind employs half as many but nearly the same number as gas-fired power employs.

Energy’s Future Is Looking Pretty Sunny

So what’s the upshot? Solar and wind have both the highest proportions of their workforce employed in construction and the most even distribution in other industries as well. If you work in nuclear power generation, it’s a 75 percent chance that you work for a utility. If you work in solar, though, it’s a 50 percent chance that you work in construction (say, building power plants) but almost equal odds that you work in manufacturing, wholesale trade distribution and transport, or services. Wind has a similar distribution of jobs, though with fewer people working in construction and more in manufacturing.

Energy’s Future Is Looking Pretty Sunny

The result is a neat trick, in a way. The biggest sectors in electric power generation also employ people most evenly across non-utility jobs. For job-seekers, solar and wind offer the widest range of opportunities — and offer policymakers the widest range of skills to take advantage of, in the field and in the back office.  

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Nathaniel Bullard is a BloombergNEF energy analyst, covering technology and business model innovation and system-wide resource transitions.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.