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Is public utilities a good career path? Outlook, jobs, & more

Explore the public utilities career path, its outlook, and jobs that are hiring. Find your next career in the growing field of public utilities today!

Jobs in the public utilities sector provide essential services to the general public. Not only are these jobs reliable, but they’re also fairly diverse. The public utilities field needs electricians, electrical engineers, garbage truck drivers, public works directors, and more.

Unemployment in the sector is fairly low (2.5% as of April 2023), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), so you can count on job security.

On this page, we’ll discuss what the public utilities field is, explain the sector’s pros and cons, and review some of the top public utilities jobs.

What is public utilities?

Public utilities provide services essential to our daily lives, such as electric power, natural gas, water supply, sewage removal, heat, and telecommunications. The public utilities field encompasses the generation, transmission, and distribution of these services. For example, the pipelines that transport oil and gas need someone to plan, manage, and maintain them.

In other words, public utility jobs keep the power on, clean water running, and phone calls going through. They make the world go round!

You can find public utility jobs at local governments and utility companies. Some jobs pertain to actually installing and building out these systems, such as electricians, linemen, and plumbers. Others pertain to designing these systems, such as engineers. Others manage the operations, such as wastewater treatment plant operators and utility managers.

Job outlook

Public utilities employment has been fairly consistent for the past two decades, according to BLS data. And because every U.S. city, municipality, and county needs public utilities, some jobs will never disappear. That makes public utilities a fairly reliable and steady field.

Still, the BLS does project that the industry will lose 34,600 jobs between 2021 and 2031. The exact projection differs between jobs, though.

For example, line installers and repairers, HVAC mechanics, and electricians are expected to grow at an average rate. These jobs require some training and/or education.

Meanwhile, job openings for water and waste treatment plant and system operators, power plant operators, and nuclear engineers and technicians are all projected to decline.

Public utilities jobs expected to grow much faster than average include wind turbine technicians and solar photovoltaic installers, pointing to a shift to renewable energy sources affecting the job market.

Pros and cons of a public utilities career

Like jobs in every field,working in public utilities has pros and cons. Weighing these pros and cons against your personal preferences is important so you can thrive in the job you choose. Here are just some of the things to consider.


A career in public utilities has many perks. Here are some of the best ones:

  • Government benefits. Many jobs in public utilities are government jobs, which come with a slew of benefits (including higher salaries, solid health insurance, and job security).
  • Lots of entry-level positions. Many public utilities jobs don’t require prior experience, so you can start immediately. For example, sanitation workers and customer service representatives often have few requirements.
  • Lots of job options. The public utilities sector includes several job opportunities. Whether you want to work in an office, in the field, on a computer, or with your hands, you’ll find a job that fits the bill.
  • High-paying jobs. Public utilities jobs often have high salaries, especially in trades and engineering roles.
  • Job growth. Many jobs in the sector are expected to grow in the coming years, especially in renewable energy and the trades.


Public utilities employees also have their fair share of challenges. Here are a few:

  • Declining job growth. Some job openings are expected to decline between 2021 and 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Lower salaries for entry-level jobs. Some entry-level jobs, like sewage collector and wastewater treatment technician, don’t pay very well initially. However, they also don’t require a lot of experience.
  • Physical demands. Many public works jobs are physically demanding. Although it can be great to work with your hands, physical labor does take its toll.

Who should pursue a career in public utilities?

Public utilities can be an exciting and lucrative career path, but it’s not for everyone. Consider whether your interests and academic desires align with the field before pursuing it.


Not all jobs in public utilities require a formal education. For example, someone working in sanitation or wastewater might only need a high school diploma. However, some jobs require degrees and certifications.

For instance, you will need a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree in engineering to become a petroleum engineer or electrical engineer. You can also pursue a more specific major, such as civil engineering, electrical engineering, or chemical engineering.

Anyone wanting a hands-on job as a plumber or electrician must also complete an apprenticeship and get a license. You can find apprenticeship programs through trade schools, community colleges, or individual companies.


Some technical and practical skills can help you break into the public utilities field and find success. Here are some to hone to be successful in this industry:

  • Communication. Most public utilities workers work on a team or in customer-facing roles. Effective communication will help you get ahead.
  • Science. Some of the highest-paying jobs in public utilities are in engineering, which requires a decent amount of scientific knowledge and skills. Even in jobs requiring less experience, you’ll likely need a basic understanding of electricity and physics.
  • Problem-solving. Knowing how to solve problems is key to being a successful electrician or plumber (or for similar roles where you are constantly troubleshooting and fixing dilemmas).
  • Physical strength and stamina. Many career options in public utilities require a decent amount of physical strength and stamina because you’ll be out in the field or on your feet most of the day.

Personal attributes

There’s no “one type fits all” personality for the public utilities field, especially because it includes many types of jobs. However, you might be a good fit if you like some of the following:

  • Helping people. A job in public utilities directly impacts your town, city, or state. Everybody relies on public utilities like water, electricity, and trash collection to survive. Being a part of this field means you’re contributing to something much bigger than yourself (we know it’s cheesy, but it’s true!)
  • Working with your hands. Many jobs in public utilities, such as plumber, electrician, and treatment plant operators, require a lot of hands-on work. Even engineers routinely visit work sites. This makes public utilities a perfect choice if you hate the idea of sitting behind a desk doing the same thing day in, day out.
  • Creativity and troubleshooting. Problem-solving is a huge part of public utility jobs, and this requires creativity. For example, a plumber will often need to find a leak’s source and choose the most efficient, cost-effective way to stop it. Or, an electrical engineer might need to find a way to power their city’s new housing development — a complex task with many issues to consider.
  • Mathematics and science. Many engineering jobs in public utilities rely on these disciplines. Even non-engineering jobs may require some ability to work with numbers and science.

Top 10 jobs in public utilities

Here are 10 of the top jobs in the public utilities field.

1. Electrical engineer

Median annual salary: $101,780

Electrical engineers research and design electrical equipment and systems. They might work at an engineering company, a research company, or a public works company.

This is one of the best-paying jobs in public utilities and generally requires a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in engineering.

New graduates can expect to make an average of $68,000. However, your salary can climb to the six-figure range (or higher!) as you gain more experience.


  • Attention to detail
  • Math
  • Communication


  • Bachelor’s or master’s degree in engineering

2. Electrician

Median annual salary: $60,040

Electricians are tradespeople who install, maintain, and repair electrical systems. Electricians need to know how to read electrical information on blueprints, how to work on a team, and how to talk with customers.

In most states, electricians must complete a four- to five-year apprenticeship that combines on-the-job training with some classroom learning. (Don’t worry, apprenticeships are paid!)


  • Critical thinking
  • Customer service
  • Physical strength and stamina
  • Troubleshooting and problem-solving


  • High school diploma or GED
  • Trade school and/or apprenticeship
  • State licensure (varies by location)

3. Public works director

Average annual salary: $76,681

Public works directors, also called utility managers, manage the public works services for a city, town, county, or municipality. These services often include water, waste management, electricity, traffic control, and building management.

Most public works director jobs are civil service positions within the government, typically at a local level. This is a great job option if you want to manage people and projects.

On the day-to-day, you might create budgets, oversee city projects, and create long-term plans for public services.


  • Accounting
  • Management
  • Planning


  • Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, business administration, or a related field
  • Management experience, especially in government or civil service
  • Background in accounting

4. Meter reader

Average salary: $40,695

Meter readers monitor the usage of utilities like gas, electricity, and water by reading meters (typically on people’s houses). Some companies read meters remotely, while some do it in person. Reading meters in person requires some traveling, usually in a company vehicle.

Meter readers work outdoors and work fairly independently. If you hate being behind a desk and like to get outside often, this could be the job for you.


  • Computer use
  • Reporting
  • Communication


  • High school diploma or GED

5. Plumber

Median annual salary: $59,880

Plumbers install and repair piping and plumbing systems. In addition to actually fixing the problem and performing routine maintenance, plumbers might prepare cost estimates for customers and collect payments.

Some plumbers must be on call for emergencies, requiring some weekend and/or holiday work. A plumber must learn through an apprenticeship, just like electricians. You must also pass a licensing exam through the state to become a journey-level plumber, which allows you to work independently. You can take another exam to achieve master status, although some states require the master status as their minimum.


  • Communication
  • Dexterity
  • Physical strength and endurance
  • Troubleshooting


  • High school diploma and/or trade school
  • Apprenticeship
  • State licensure (varies by location)

6. Electrical lineman

Median annual salary: $74,530

Electrical linemen (or “line installers”) repair and install electrical power systems and telecommunications cables, such as power lines, phone lines, and fiber optics. These professionals work with high-voltage equipment, often high up in the air, so this job really isn’t for someone afraid of heights. It’s physically demanding work and might require some holiday and weekend time. However, it is a fairly lucrative public utilities job.

Electrical linemen need some technical knowledge of electricity and electronics, either through trade school, community college, or the military. Some employers might require a community college certification or an apprenticeship, depending on your state. These programs are typically shorter than those for electricians and plumbers, only lasting three years.


  • Physical strength and stamina
  • Teamwork
  • Troubleshooting
  • Mechanical


  • High school diploma or GED

7. Sanitation worker

Sanitation worker average salary: $38,324

Sanitation workers carry out sanitation-related tasks and the upkeep of facilities at residences, private companies, and public works. For example, a sanitation worker might clean offices or drive a garbage truck. There is a wide range of sanitation jobs with an even wider range of salaries. Work your way up the ranks and become a sanitation manager, for example, to earn more than entry-level roles — upward of around $74,000 per year.

Sanitation positions require little experience and can be performed part time.


  • Physical strength and stamina
  • Ability to lift heavy items
  • Teamwork
  • Following safety protocols


  • High school diploma or GED

8. Petroleum engineer

Median annual salary: $130,850

Petroleum engineers create and design ways to source and extract oil and gas for energy. In this role, you might work in an office or at a well or drilling site. This type of job is expected to grow between 2021 and 2031, according to the BLS, but it’s worth noting that jobs in renewable energy are expected to grow much faster.

New graduates entering the petroleum engineering field can expect to earn an average of $79,372. However, this salary is very scalable since petroleum engineers are some of the highest-earning public works employees.


  • Analysis
  • Teamwork
  • Mathematics and/or science


  • Bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related field

9. Water treatment plant operator

Median annual salary: $47,880

Water treatment plant operators operate and manage systems and machines that transfer or treat drinking water and wastewater. This includes adding chemicals to disinfect water, inspecting equipment, monitoring operating conditions, and testing water and sewage samples.

If you work in this role, you will typically hold a full-time government position and must be licensed by your state.


  • Analysis
  • Attention to detail
  • Mathematics
  • Mechanical


  • High school diploma or GED
  • On-the-job training
  • State licensure

10. Telecommunications engineer

Average salary: $81,185

Telecommunications managers design, construct, and install telecommunications systems and equipment. These systems include telephone and internet, radio, television, broadcasting, and satellite communications.

These engineers can work for private companies or public works departments in local governments. When not actively installing telecommunications equipment, they work in office settings as part of a team.


  • Analysis
  • Mathematics and technology
  • Communication


  • Bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related field
  • Some on-the-job training

Finding a job in the public utilities industry

Public utilities jobs can be a great fit if you’re interested in teamwork, working with your hands, and learning how things work. And with so many career options, you’re sure to find something you like! While some public utilities jobs are declining, others have steady or increasing openings. That means it’s a fairly stable career path.

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