Survey: Energy Workers Are Getting Younger, But Their Turnover Is Highest

A new survey of employment trends in the energy sector shows that the workforce continues to get younger, but there’s also significant job churn among this group as a growing number leave their jobs within the first five years.

In the 2021 survey, 32% of energy workers were millennials compared to 29% the previous year, according to results from the latest Gaps in the Energy Workforce survey. The biennial analysis was conducted by the Center for Energy Workforce Development of 614,000 workers.

However, turnover was highest among the 23-37 age group, with 60% of “non-retirement attrition” occurring in this demographic.

The two recent CEWD findings are also reflected in data submitted by NRECA on behalf of electric cooperatives. In 2020, co-ops had the youngest workforce, with 16% of their employees under the age of 32.

Among all co-ops, turnover also rose considerably—6,570 workers left in 2021 compared to 5,032 in 2020.

“People are leaving for different positions, different opportunities, or some are moving, maybe to be closer to family,” said Desiree Dunham, NRECA’s workforce programs manager. “During the pandemic, people re-evaluated their personal priorities and they may be looking for a new lifestyle. The Big Reshuffle is not just impacting one specific industry; some co-ops are experiencing it, too.”

Because CEWD conducted the survey during the height of the pandemic in 2020, staffing issues related to the crisis affected findings, according to the report. For example, the turnover rate across the entire energy industry rose 15.4% compared to 2019, which “was to be expected considering the pandemic that affected the nation,” the report.

And while women were hired in greater numbers, the report found their participation in the energy workforce dropped to 22%, compared to 24% in 2019.

“It’s our belief that our industry, like so many, saw women needing to leave jobs to serve as primary caregivers,” said Missy Henrickson, executive director of CEWD.

Pandemic-related staffing issues also affected CEWD’s ability to conduct the survey. Respondents dropped by a third compared to the last data-gathering cycle, with some members electing to sit out this round until the next period, the report said.

Overall, the survey shows that industry outreach and recruiting initiatives are paying off, said Ray Kelly, a consultant for CEWD and the survey’s coordinator.

“The energy industry continues to provide great jobs and worthwhile, lifelong employment opportunities,” said Kelly. “It’s a matter of working with workforce boards, unions and our member employees to make sure the public sees our members’ programs and those great opportunities.”

The CEWD surveys five technical job categories submitted by utility members in several areas: demographic composition, retirement forecasts and attrition data. NRECA is one of the 120 CEWD members that analyze and use the data to support strategic workforce planning. The survey began in 2012.

Other findings from the CEWD survey include:

• Retirements are slowing. Workers eligible for retirement within the next five years comprise 9.7% of the utility workforce, the lowest percentage since 2016. During the survey’s first year, nearly half of all technical workers were within one to five years of retirement.

• For the first time, the survey separated renewable energy jobs from the previous “technician” role. Renewable energy positions represent 1% of the workforce and will likely go up and even “experience the greatest increase in jobs of all sectors.”

• Minorities comprise 24% of the workforce, compared to 22% in the 2019 survey, most likely due to a focus on increasing diversity through recruitment and inclusion initiatives.

Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer for NRECA.