Careers in Energy
Introducing Energy Careers
Choosing a career can be puzzling…but not if you know your choices.
Do adults you know ever ask you what kind of job you want to do when you’re older?
It’s OK if you don’t know—most kids don’t at your age—but it could be useful to start thinking about this. Although the future may seem far away, gathering information now is a good idea so that you can find out what kinds of jobs might interest you and the skills they require.
To get started, take a look at Which Career Is for You? and learn about the variety of energy jobs that might fit your interests. Follow up with our Career Quiz below to get more insight on this topic.
Next, learn about some specific Career Choices in energy and natural gas, as well as jobs in the new and growing field of green energy. Get some CareerAdvice from a petroleum geologist and a utility network operations supervisor. And if you’d like to go further in your career explorations, check out our Helpl Links.
Which Career Is for You?
Energy is a broad field, with a wide range of job possibilities that will keep growing as our energy needs increase. Energy jobs are so diverse that no matter what your interests, chances are you’ll find a job that’s a good fit for you:
- If you like science and math and solving problems, engineering might suit you.
- For the adventurous, there are jobs that will get you outside working in the elements, such a line worker who repairs power lines after storms, or a laborer or operator out at sea on an oil or gas rig.
- If you love to investigate and do research, you might enjoy work developing more efficient and varied systems of energy delivery, more efficient uses for renewables, or sources of green energy.
- If you’re a people person, there are jobs such as a team leader or call center operator that keep you working closely with others.
Take our Career Quiz to find out more.
Chemist or Materials Scientist
Develops processes such as improved oil refining and petrochemical processing that save energy and reduce pollution.
Works on building utility systems or retrofitting commercial and residential buildings to make them more energy-efficient. Includes urban and regional planners and architects.
Connects scientific discoveries with societal and consumer needs. Develops new products. Works in a high-tech industry. A good fit for those who like to build things from scratch, analyze information, and solve problems and are self-directed and quick to learn new technologies.
Many different types of technicians are needed in power generation: mechanical, electrical, instrumentation and control, and in the nuclear field, chemistry and radiation protection. Work involves applying the principles and theories of science, engineering, and math to solve technical problems.
Uses knowledge of the physical makeup and history of the earth to protect the environment, locate water and other energy resources, predict geologic hazards, and provide environmental site assessments and advice on air quality and hazardous-waste-site remediation.
Includes careers such as those of petroleum geologists, who map the subsurface of the ocean or land while exploring the terrain for oil and gas deposits.
Heating and Air-Conditioning Mechanic
Often specializes in either installation or maintenance and repair of heating and air-conditioning systems, although they are trained to do both. Some specialize in one type of equipment—for example, hydronics (water-based heating systems), solar panels, or commercial refrigeration.
Installs and repairs electrical power lines. Often works outdoors, in potentially hazardous conditions. Constructs and maintains lines by erecting utility poles and towers—or digging underground trenches—to carry the wires and cables. May use a variety of construction equipment. Work is very physical (climbing, lifting, digging, and so on).
Responsible for measuring and mapping the earth’s surface. Collects, analyzes, interprets, and maps geographic information using data from surveys and photographs.
Power Plant Operator
Controls the machinery that generates electricity. Other related jobs involve controlling the flow of electricity from the power plant over a network of transmission lines to industrial plants and substations and finally to consumers. Familiarity with computers and a basic understanding of science and math are helpful. Requires constant attention. Can be hazardous if working outside the control room.
Jobs in Green Energy Industries:
Needs heating engineers, mechanical engineers, geologists, drilling crews, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) contractors to manufacture and install geothermal heat pumps.
Needs recreation planners, resource managers, and educators to manage reservoirs and surrounding land; environmental scientists to assess the environmental impact of their operations; and biologists, hydrologists, ecologists, and wildlife habitat specialists to assess and address environmental remediation.
Needs electrical, mechanical, and chemical engineers to research and develop solar technologies, and electricians, engineers, technicians, and technical managers to sell, manufacture, design, install, and maintain equipment.
Requires meteorologists to help engineers identify suitable sites for wind power. Mechanical engineers or electricians called “windsmiths” are needed to operate and maintain wind turbines.
Career Advice from a Petroleum Geologist
Were you a T Rex fan when you were little? Or maybe you have a rock collection. If so, your passion could someday translate to a career in geology like that of James Gibbs. In addition to his work as a consulting geologist, James Gibbs is president and CEO of an independent oil and gas producer in Dallas, Texas. He has some advice for young people interested in a career in petroleum geology.
First, you need a basic curiosity about the earth. “A lot of kids get fascinated by rock collecting,” says Gibbs. “Or they get interested in dinosaurs, or they get interested in understanding what goes on in mountains. Mines are fascinating to them, or minerals—the shapes, forms, colors of minerals. They get into earth sciences of some kind, and then somewhere along the way they start saying to themselves, I really enjoy this. How do I make a living at it?”
Second, you’ll need to study science and math. “Geology is an applied science. It draws heavily on physics, chemistry, and mathematics. Students need to enjoy those courses, or at least tolerate them,” says Gibbs.
Third, you’ll need to go to college and get a degree in geology. Then it’s on to graduate school—for either a master’s degree or a Ph.D.—in order to specialize in petroleum geology.
Gibbs has some other tips for prospective petroleum geologists: Learn a second language. Learn about the customs of other cultures, especially those of other oil-producing nations. Try to get an internship working with geologists. And learn accounting, so that if you decide to start your own business someday—like he did—you’ll know how to manage your finances.
Career Advice from a Utility Network Supervisor
Did you know that much of today’s energy delivery is dependent on highly complex phone and computer networks that need people to oversee them? If you like technology, then this might be a field for you. Greg St. Martin oversees the vast networks for the systems that manage the electric grid and gas delivery in Northern California. His department is staffed 24/7 making sure power is available and reliable.
When asked what he enjoys most about his work, St. Martin replied, “I like the variety. It’s constantly changing, I never do the same thing every day.” After 24 years of working in various aspects of the utility, he has seen the technology field evolve dramatically. “There are always new systems to learn about.”
For those who want to enter the field of utility operations, St. Martin suggests two possible avenues of study: electronics and information security. However, he says he learned the most important things from his dad, who taught him how to take initiative and be responsible.
“One of the big things that you apply in this work is initiative,” he says. “When you see something that needs to be taken care of, you deal with it. Also, you need to be responsible, and ready to show up on time. All those factors make you successful.”
Click on the answer that fits you best. If you have trouble choosing between two or more answers, pick the one you would be happier doing for a long period of time. Your score will show at the bottom when you’re done.