Renewable Energy Jobs Abound for Fossil Fuel Engineers
Those working in the fossil fuel industry may need to pivot to renewables. Here’s how.
Many in the fossil fuel industry have been discouraged by a recent report claiming workers may struggle to transition into the renewable energy sector because of where they live. Simply, the report says that “location” may be a top barrier to finding jobs in the renewable energy field because those jobs are located too far from where many fossil fuel industry workers currently live and work.
Renewable energy jobs. Image used courtesy of BLS
But that conclusion is incorrect, according to industry recruiters EE Power spoke with, saying there are plenty of renewable energy jobs to be had in many traditional fossil fuel markets geographically, and fossil fuel workers can “go where the money is.”
On the Move for Renewable Energy Jobs
Michael Beavers, a senior recruiter at energy management company VoltaGrid, disagrees strongly with the study's conclusion.
“The cyclical nature of the oil industry often necessitates workforce mobility, with many projects being short-term or project-based,” Beavers told EE Power. “This characteristic of the industry aligns well with rotational work arrangements.”
Engineers may arrive in locations such as Midland, Texas, to contribute to a specific project and then transition to the next job once that project is completed, Beavers said. This flexibility and willingness to move make it possible for those engineers to adapt to changing job landscapes, even if they are initially located outside the geographies where renewable energy jobs are emerging.
Projected job growth in renewable energy. Image used courtesy of DOL
Most important to engineers in either sector are the potential opportunities.
“The attraction for this workforce primarily lies in their openness to training, the competitive compensation, and the flexibility offered by rotational schedules,” Beavers noted.
But relocating may be optional for fossil fuel engineers to make the transition, said Wayne Schofield, owner and CEO at USAWindJobs.com and co-founder/COO at Night and Day Resume.
“Texas is a huge opportunity for solar and wind jobs, and we know that oil and gas has deep roots there as well,” Schofield told EE Power. “So no, I don’t believe location is at all a negative for folks looking to transition from oil and gas to the renewable industry.”
Working Conditions and Benefits
Different job markets offer various benefits, compensation, and working conditions.
“My greatest concern would be regarding jobs in the energy sector that do not involve rotational assignments or project-based work,” Beavers said. “It becomes considerably more challenging to attract workers who prefer traditional Monday-to-Friday shift schedules.”
For example, Beavers said manufacturing facilities dedicated to producing wind turbines or solar equipment may encounter significant difficulties if they expect engineers to relocate for a standard 40-hour work week permanently. In light of this, employers should explore options such as flexible schedules or rotational shifts to better adapt to the needs and preferences of potential employees.
Video used courtesy of Tech Vision
“The biggest hurdle I faced with folks looking to move from fossil fuels wasn’t the skill set, but the mindset and the compensation gap,” Schofield explained. “The fossil fuel industry pays well, but folks look to get out of it because it can be cyclical, an all-or-nothing proposition of 70-plus hour work weeks, or being out of work for months. The renewable space offers 40-50 hour work weeks on a consistent basis, which might be better for family life or financial stability. But some like the volatility, the pay, the extended time off in fossil fuels, so they stay.”
Meanwhile, wind and solar industries continue to scale and hire, Beavers said.
“Beyond wind and solar, there are a few renewable and clean energy industries I’ve been watching,” Beavers said. Examples include utility-scale battery storage and portable nuclear power generation.
Relocation Isn’t Necessary
If engineers don’t wish to relocate, there are plenty of remote opportunities in the renewable space, including jobs in sales, procurement, operations, HR, and finance.
Engineers in the fossil fuel industry also frequently have the advantage of gaining practical experience while on the job, Beavers noted. They typically begin as roustabouts or apprentices and gradually progress within the field.
“Renewable jobs are a bit more specific and expect more specific domain knowledge,” Beavers explained. “Renewable employers haven’t historically been as flexible in their expectations. You’re seeing more degreed work in renewables, especially at early-stage start-ups that haven’t received large capital investments for a real project.”
For those fossil fuel engineers who want to begin the transition, Schofield recommends building transferable skillsets viable across the energy sector. Renewable energy and fossil fuels share significant common ground in several key sectors, including power generation, transmission, and distribution.
“Balance your specialization where you maintain expertise in a specific area but also develop broader skills and knowledge to remain versatile,” Schofield urged. “If possible, continue to cross-train while in the fossil fuel industry to these transferable skills.”
Stay vigilant about industry trends, Schofield advised. While the transition away from fossil fuels may be gradual, it's advantageous to stay informed about emerging technology and be ready to adjust expertise accordingly.
“Consider reaching out to emerging startups and proactively show your interest,” Schofield said. “Green energy encompasses a wide range of sectors beyond just solar and wind, including renewable gas/biofuel, nuclear, battery storage, and geothermal. These sectors are all seeking engineers with similar skills in fossil fuels.”
Beavers concluded, “Energy is complicated. It’s not entirely fossil fuels or renewable. There are areas of overlap that can help workers transition their knowledge with an evolving industry.”