Wage and salary employment in utilities is expected to decline 6 percent between 2002 and 2012, compared with an increase of about 16 percent for all industries combined. Projected employment change varies by industry segment. Although electric power and natural gas are essential to everyday life, employment declines will result from improved production methods and technology, energy conservation by consumers and more efficient appliances, and a more competitive regulatory environment.
Reorganization of electric and gas utilities has increased competition and provided incentives for improved efficiency. For example, nonutility generators of electricity, such as a major industrial plant operating its own power generators, are permitted to sell their excess electricity to utilities at competitive rates. Also, independent power producers can build electric power generating plants for the sole purpose of selling their power to utilities. These producers generally build gas-turbine generating plants, which have lower construction and environmental costs, employ fewer workers, and usually can sell electric power more cheaply than the coal-powered steam-turbine generator plants.
In the gas transmission and distribution industry, regulatory changes now allow wholesale buyers to purchase gas at competitive rates from any producer and to use the gas pipeline transmission network to transport the gas. This process also is occurring at the distribution level. These changes have caused an increase in gas and electric utility mergers, workforce reductions, and the redesign and reallocation of job duties in a process that will continue through the 2002-12 projection period.
New and continuing energy policies also provide investment tax credits for research and development of renewable sources of energy and ways to improve the efficiency of equipment used in electric utilities. As a result, electric utilities will continue to increase the productivity of their plants and workers, resulting in a slowdown in employment opportunities. However, highly trained technical personnel with the education and experience to take advantage of new developments in electric utilities should face good prospects for employment.
In the water and sewage systems industries, regulatory changes have had the opposite impact. Regulations in these industries have not been designed to increase competition, but to increase the number of contaminants that must be monitored and treated and to tighten the environmental impact standards of these industries, resulting in increased employment.
Water and sewage systems services are projected to be the only growing segment of utilities, with employment projected to increase 46 percent from 2002 to 2012. This segment is expected to grow as a result of an increase in the amount of waste generated from a growing population. Also, newly constructed housing developments are more likely to have community water supplies and waste treatment facilities, increasing demand for these services.
Technology and automation will adversely affect natural gas distribution utilities employment. Although natural gas is an increasingly popular choice among homeowners, businesses, and electric utilities, the efficiency of natural gas furnaces has increased considerably, thereby reducing average home consumption. These energy-conserving technologies will likely continue to minimize the relative use of natural gas by most industries and by individual homes. In addition, utilities in colder climates have increasingly automated their meter reading and billing procedures. Combined, these developments are projected to result in a decrease in employment in natural gas distribution services.
In general, persons with college training in advanced technology will have the best opportunities in utilities industries. Computer systems analysts and network systems and data communications analysts are expected to be among the fastest growing occupations in the professional and related occupations group, as plants emphasize automation and productivity. Some office and administrative support workers, such as utilities meter readers and bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks, are among those affected by increasing automation. Technologies including radio-transmitted meter reading and computerized billing procedures are expected to decrease employment.