Idaho Projects Workforce Gap in Energy Industry

Jobs in the utilities sector will grow a percentage point faster through 2022 than jobs overall in Idaho.

The Idaho Department of Labor’s long-term industry projections estimate job growth in utilities will hit 17.3 percent between 2012 and 2022 compared with 16.2 percent for all jobs in the state.

While this growth in the utilities industry is good news, especially considering that the Idaho Department of Labor estimates the annual average wage in this sector at $66,697, the need for new workers raises the question of whether the state will have enough workers with the right skills to meet the demand.

The long-term projections show significant growth in all occupations related to energy and utilities — electrical engineers up 15.8 percent, nuclear engineers up 16.9 percent, electrical and electronic engineering technicians up 8.2 percent and nuclear technicians up 14.1 percent.

These projections underscore a growing need for postsecondary education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – the so-called STEM fields – while statistics from Idaho State University indicate only a limited number of students pursuing courses that prepare them for careers in energy.

Despite ISU’s strong reputation in science and engineering, last year few students finished degree programs that prepared them to enter that sector. Of the 1,248 bachelor’s degrees awarded by ISU during the last academic year, only nine were in physics, nine in nuclear engineering, seven in electrical engineering, two in Electrical Systems – Electrical Engineering Technology and one in Electrical Systems – Instrumentation and Control Engineering. Overall 184 degrees were awarded in fields related to science, technology, engineering and math, but most were not directly related to energy.

Overall, Idaho has educational attainment levels below the national average. The Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey found 24.8 percent of Idaho’s population ages 25 and older had at least a bachelor’s degree compared with 28.5 percent nationwide. Five rural Idaho counties have degree rates of half or less than statewide rate.

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The comparatively low percentage of four-year degree holders puts Idaho at a disadvantage in attracting STEM-related industries including energy. Energy companies would likely have difficulty filling their workforce needs. Some energy businesses in Idaho are recruiting nationally and internationally to find the skilled workers they need.

The lack of Idahoans obtaining education and the skills sought by the energy sector may be a bad sign for this important industry sector.

With appropriately trained workers in short supply for Idaho’s energy sector, there is the prospect that some firms will locate in other states with higher levels of trained workers. The lack of STEM education targeted at energy may also limit the ability of Idaho energy businesses to expand.

Dan.Cravens@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
(208) 236-6710, ext. 3713