Knowing a job’s future viability is crucial, especially during an economic downturn. Jobs in the energy sector are particularly difficult to track because growth is so dependent upon the economic and political climate. The best projections use the best data, and for this we turn to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Their Occupational Outlook Handbook compiles a set of statistics to determine which jobs are expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations. From their list of the fastest growing occupations, we’ve pulled out the top five skilled trades in the following sectors: wind, solar, and oil and gas. If you’re a tradie looking to work in the energy industry, these are the careers to keep your eye on:
#1: Wind Turbine Service Technicians
- Median salary: $52,9210
- Projected growth rate: 61%
At the top of the list of the fastest growing skilled trades in the energy sector are wind turbine service technicians. Also known as windtechs, their job is to install, maintain, and repair wind turbines. A turbine has three major components: a tower, three blades, and a nacelle with a generator, gearbox, and brakes. When a problem is detected with one of these components, a windtech is called out to make repairs. Learning how to install and maintain these components either takes place at a technical school or through long-term, on-the-job training. Driving the growth in this job is the projected growth of wind electricity generation, which is expected to rise rapidly over the coming decade.
#2: Solar Photovoltaic Installers
- Median salary: $44,890 per year
- Projected growth rate: 51%
Another fast-growing energy job in the skilled trades with a growth rate of 51% is solar photovoltaic installers. These professionals work in the solar industry to assemble, set up and maintain systems that turn sunlight into energy. The three parts of the job involve verifying the measurements and design of the system, mounting the solar panels, and testing to make sure they’re working. Training can be accomplished on the job or through a technical school or community college. The growth in adoption of solar as an alternative source of energy is driving the demand for installers.
#3: Derrick Operators, Oil and Gas
- Median salary: $46,990 per year
- Projected growth rate: 31%
With a projected growth rate of 31%, derrick operators in the oil and gas industry have solid career prospects for the future. Derricks refer to the framework over an oil well that holds the drilling machinery in place. Those in this position have the important job of inspecting, cleaning, repairing and positioning the derrick for safe and efficient operation. On-the-job training is necessary to learn the mechanical and technical skills required to operate the derrick. Many long-time operators are retiring, which is driving the demand for these skilled workers.
#4: Rotary Drill Operators, Oil and Gas
- median salary: $54,980
- projected growth rate: 27%
Of the five fastest growing skilled trade jobs in the energy field, the highest paid are rotary drill operators, according to the BLS, with median salaries of $54,980. These professionals operate and set up the drill systems for extracting underground gas and oil, or core samples for testing during the exploration phase. They essentially carry out the plans put in place by the petroleum engineers, monitoring pressure gauges and moving the levers and throttles that control rotary table speed. Understanding this machinery and the software behind the machinery requires on-the-job training and experience. The field is losing many of these skilled workers to retirement, further fueling the demand.
#5: Roustabouts, Oil and Gas
- Median salary: $38,910
- Projected growth rate: 25%
Rounding out the list of the five fastest growing skilled trade jobs in energy are roustabouts. Their job is to assemble and repair the equipment needed on the oil field. Though no formal education is needed, a roustabout must be well-versed in the power and hand tools used to unscrew or tighten pipes, fix leaks, bolt pieces of equipment together, among other maintenance tasks. They also must know proper safety procedures due to the occupational hazards of the job. Roustabouts with the training and skills to get the job done safely and effectively have strong job prospects in the future.
While the BLS conducts a comprehensive deep-dive into job growth, it’s important to note that many factors can make predictions difficult. Economists predict that the result of the 2020 presidential election will greatly impact global energy markets. If President Trump is re-elected, he has vowed to continue expansion of production and access to all fuels, focusing on US fossil fuel resources. Biden has indicated he will invest heavily in the renewables space, helping fuel the growth in solar and wind. Either scenario means fluctuations in the growth projections for these jobs, and significant changes to the industry at large.
- Atlantic Council, “Election 2020: What’s at stake for energy?”, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/in-depth-research-reports/issue-brief/election-2020-whats-at-stake-for-energy/
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Fastest Growing Occupations,” https://www.bls.gov/ooh/fastest-growing.htm
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Solar Photovoltaic Installers”, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/solar-photovoltaic-installers.htm#tab-1
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Wind turbine technicians,” https://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/wind-turbine-technicians.htm#tab-1
- O*net online, “Summary Report for: Derrick Operators, Oil and Gas”, https://www.onetonline.org/link/details/47-5011.00
- O*net online, “Summary Report for: Rotary Drill Operators, Oil and Gas”, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/47-5012.00
- O*net online, “Summary Report for: Roustabouts, Oil and Gas”, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/47-5071.00