The prospect of graduating from college without a job secured is a scary one. And for electrical engineering graduates, the sky is the limit in terms of places to take your new skills. One of the most stable places to take your talents is the utilities industry. That’s right, the company that delivers power to your community is also an incredible place to get started (and perhaps even spend your entire career) in the electrical engineering field.
While utilities might not initially be thought of as a “glamorous” career, it’s a recession- and even pandemic-proof path worth looking at for recent grads with electrical engineering skills. When compared to other sectors like manufacturing or automotive, which are both subject to economic ups and downs, power is a critical need year round no matter what. In fact, the utilities industry has a 2.1% unemployment rate (as of July 2023), around a full percentage point below the average for all occupations.
If the idea of stable, long-term work is appealing to you, consider the following to break into utilities:
Get some experience under your belt before you graduate
Whether it’s through internships or a co-op program in your college, being able to get first-hand experience while you’re still in school can give you a big advantage. More importantly, it can help introduce you to what the field is like so you can decide if it’s right for you.
Develop transferable skills
Utility employers and staffing agencies understand that not all junior level applicants will have direct utility experience. However, they will be looking for people with key skill sets that will help them to be successful. These include general abilities like project management and overcoming obstacles, as well as technical skills from prior industrial and telecommunications positions. Another type of experience with relevant skills is anything having to do with automation and controls, such as a junior level engineer working with an automation controls background at an Amazon facility.
Understand the landscape
Utilities work is almost always project-based, which is why many people spend their entire careers as contractors. Contracts usually start at 6 to 12 months but can be longer as well. Of course, there are people who spend their entire careers with one company, such as an Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) firm. The latter usually end up working as project managers as they advance their careers. For contractors, the workdays can be long, but that also means there is a lot of available overtime to be earned.
Be willing to travel
Especially for young individuals fresh to the job market and ready to see the world, this could be a huge bonus. If you’re OK with moving around the country, you’ll open a floodgate of additional opportunities. You don’t necessarily have to bounce around if you prefer not to, but being open and flexibly will provide more options for you. Utilities workers usually stay with a project until completion, and then can move to another area to start a new one. Think of it like a trial run not just for your job, but potentially your future hometown if someplace really resonates with you!
Stay Open to Different Paths
Working in utilities can certainly mean working directly for a utility company. Because all utilities operate in similar ways, if you work for one, you will develop the skills to work for others. You can advance your career within engineering as you work your way up. Though it can be hard to land a role with a utility company initially, once you do, the job security is strong. Because capital improvements are always needed, there is generally a low risk of layoffs.
The other route to take is working with EPC firms on the utilities aspects of their construction projects. This kind of work can help you gain experience that opens you up to expanded opportunities with consulting firms.
Pay attention to trends
Areas that are prone to tornado or hurricane risks often have a big demand for utilities professionals as more and more power lines are being moved underground. Renewables are also becoming more prominent, and massive amounts of infrastructure are needed nationwide to move to a more sustainable grid. Furthermore, with the rise of electric vehicles, even more infrastructure is needed to ensure cars across the country are able to charge quickly and efficiently. Understanding how the industry is changing and adapting can help you identify where the job openings are.
Work with a recruiter
When you’re just starting out, a staffing agency can help introduce you to a variety of projects and employers. The recruiter will help get you ready for the hiring process and help connect you with good job matches for your background.
Convinced? Planet Forward works with utilities across the country. And if you’re looking for a stable career that pays well, we want to hear from you! Reach out today or lean more check out our open jobs.
by Mason Curtis, Recruitment Team Lead at Planet Forward
Photo Credit: Canva