Energy workforce gaps addressed in post-recession study

CENTRALIA, Wash. – Electric utility employment in the Pacific Northwest exceeds 40,000 highly skilled workers and generates nearly $2.8 billion in annual payrolls, according to a new labor market study. On average, the region’s utility wages are 82 percent higher than the average for jobs across all industries.

The study was conducted by the Washington State University Extension Energy Program and published by the Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy/A Centralia College Partnership (PNCECE).

The study reveals how energy employment and workforce needs have changed since 2008, before the onset of the U.S. recession. A lack of qualified workers and looming retirement forecasts pose formidable challenges to employers and the regional economy, according to the report.

“This information is vital to utility employers,” said Troy Nutter, manager of operational training at Puget Sound Energy. “It identifies where the workforce gaps will be, why there is a shortage of qualified applicants and suggests solutions and actions not only for the industry but for educators and trainers as well.”

The study includes data gathered from 16 electric power employers who employ nearly 28,000 workers across the five-state Pacific Northwest region (Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho and Utah). PNCECE is releasing the results this week in the study, “Workforce Challenges of Electric Power Employers in the Pacific Northwest,” which was funded through a $5 million (leveraged to $12 million) U.S. Department of Energy Smart Grid Workforce Training grant.

Power engineering job openings are the hardest to fill, and engineers and mechanics combined are slated to share 77 percent of new employment within the utility industry through 2016. The findings echo national forecasts about future labor shortages in the energy workforce.

“Not only has the forecast for these occupations changed, the recession also affected the demand for electricity nationally and in our region,” said Alan Hardcastle, WSU energy program senior research associate. “Utility employers needed to shift hiring practices and re-establish priorities. They implemented cost-cutting measures and limited new hiring.”

“This study is extremely important to workforce development partners such as community and technical colleges throughout each state,” said Barbara Hins-Turner, PNCECE executive director. “It confirms that we are developing training programs that are relevant to the industry’s workforce needs.”

“The uncertain economy caused many experienced employees to delay their retirements, but as the economy improves and more workers retire, replacing those highly skilled workers will become a significant long-term challenge for the industry,” Hardcastle said.

A copy of the report may be found at



Barbara Hins-Turner, PNCECE, 360-736-9391, ext. 477

Alan Hardcastle, WSU Energy Program, 360-956-2167