“We’re looking for professionals who want a career here. Not engineers that will always be looking for greener pastures!” That was pretty much the greeting I got when I had my initial job interview with Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

Actually, I was between graduate degrees at Berkeley looking for a temporary position and had no intention of settling down anywhere. And particularly not at a (what I then considered) low tech, conservative utility, for Pete’s sake! But I ended up staying for many years, and the power industry continues to reward me with awesome challenges and terrific friends and colleagues.

However, there’s no doubt that the 100-year-old utility culture of hiring engineers and other technical professionals for life is changing rapidly for a number of reasons, including:

  • Utilities generally can’t compete with hi-tech industries when it comes to salary, training and advancement opportunities. And utility benefit packages are becoming less attractive.
  • Power specialists are getting rarer. Fewer universities offer power engineering majors or even courses.
  • Rapidly evolving Smart grid and related control, IT and communications technologies are pushing utilities to rely on outsourced specialists.

Since about 50 percent of the aging utility workforce is reaching retirement age, the next few years will provide the opportunities for overhauling utility resource management. That presents some major challenges. Ironically, these challenges occur during a time of the greatest technology changes that the industry has ever seen.

Check out this month's featured poll and let us know what you think about the future job market in utilities.