Two Minute Tips

Four rules for reporting on energy jobs

May 2, 2017

Share this article:

There's plenty to write about jobs in the energy sector. (Wind-power Generator image by "kdj71190" via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain)
There's plenty to write about jobs in the energy sector. (Wind-power Generator image by "kdj71190" via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain)

Whether it’s coming from President Trump or being pushed by a company’s PR team, there’s a popular topic in the energy sector that everyone enjoys talking about: jobs.

At some point or another, a story about jobs will cross your desk, whether it’s about the boom in solar and wind industries or the dwindling numbers in coal mines. There are plenty of stories to talk about, but it’s easy to miss the mark if you fail to include the proper context.

So whether you’re writing a short or starting to report an in-depth piece, here are four things to keep in mind when covering energy jobs:

Place news in the energy matrix

Solar and wind sectors saw impressive growth in 2016—25 percent and 32 percent, respectively. But these figures alone can lead to misconceptions about the industry.

Some readers may assume renewables provide a large share of the energy matrix. Others may dismiss their role by claiming the segments are small, so percentages appear outsized. Cite growth numbers in relation to the rest of the energy field to give readers a clearer understanding of where the industry is heading.

Electric power generation and fuel technology provided 1.9 million direct jobs in 2016, according to the Department of Energy’s U.S. Energy and Employment report released in January.

Traditional coal, oil and gas accounted for 55 percent, or 1.1 million of those jobs, according to the report. Low carbon emission sources, such as renewables and nuclear, accounted for 800,000 jobs.

When looking at employment by sub-technology, the DOE report shows that oil and petroleum provided the most jobs, with 515,518 workers. This was followed by solar, with 373,807 jobs, and natural gas, with 362,118 jobs.

So although traditional fossil fuels still employ the most energy workers, neither fossil fuels nor low-carbon emission sources dominate the matrix.

Location, location, location

Where are these jobs located? While solar and wind sectors saw large growth on a national scale, who is truly feeling the impact?

If you’re talking about solar energy, the growth is likely to be felt most in California. Wind is most profoundly noticeable in Texas. Before pressing “publish” on a story on renewables, make sure to note how your region is impacted—or how it’s not.

Where are these jobs coming from?

As previously noted, solar saw a 25 percent growth in 2016, which translated to 374,000 new jobs. But what exactly were those jobs? For the most part, they were in construction, the building and installation of the infrastructure that supports massive solar generation. That begs the question: Will this type of job growth be able to sustain itself?

What are these jobs paying?

What are all these new jobs paying? Are these good jobs that will allow people to support a family? Or are they jobs that only let people scrape by?

Knowing this is crucial if you’re going to compare renewable and fossil fuel job growth, as the pay for most entry level renewable jobs doesn’t compare to that of established workers in the fossil fuel industry.


Reporter’s Takeaway

• Place the job growth numbers in the wind and solar sectors in context with the entire energy grid. The growth percentages themselves don’t tell the complete story.

• Look at the types of jobs that are being created in renewables. If the bulk of growth in your region is in the construction of the infrastructure, what are the implications for long-term employment?

• See how paychecks for jobs in the renewable energy fields compare with jobs in the fossil fuel industry.

More Like This...

The business of natural disasters

Natural disasters affect nearly 160 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. They include earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, droughts, floods, and more. As well as damaging people’s lives

Covering the ‘zero waste’ eco-movement

If you’ve never heard the term “zero waste” go on Instagram and you’ll find more than three million posts that espouse a lifestyle of sending as little to the landfill

Localizing the worldwide helium shortage

Helium is the second-most common element in the universe. Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but experts warn that the world’s helium supply could run out within ten years. Is this

Two Minute Tips

Sign up now.
Get one Tuesday.

Every Tuesday we send out a quick-read email with tips for business journalism.

Subscribers also get access to the Tip archive.

Get Two Minute Tips For Business Journalism Delivered To Your Email Every Tuesday

Two Minute Tips

Every Tuesday we send out a quick-read email with tips for business journalism. Sign up now and get one Tuesday.

Our New Look
The Reynolds Center for Business Journalism is starting 2023 with a new look that we hope better illustrates our core mission to provide accurate and authoritative resources about business journalism, in order to help both reporters and news consumers understand the importance of business news and to demystify the sometimes arcane topics it covers.
Businesses, markets, and economies move in cycles – ups and downs – which is why our new logo contains a “candlestick” chart representing increases as well as downturns, and serves as a reminder that volatility is an unavoidable attribute of modern life. But it’s also possible to prepare for volatility by being well informed, and informing the general public to help level the information playing field is the primary goal of business journalism. The Reynolds Center is committed to supporting that goal, which is why the candlestick pattern in our logo merges directly into the name of our founding sponsor, Donald W. Reynolds.
Our new logo comes with a shorter name. Business is borderless, and understanding the global links in supply chains, trade, and flows of funds and people is essential to make sense of our fast-paced, globalized world. So we’re dropping the word “National” from our name and will aim to provide content that is applicable to business news globally.
We hope you like the new look. Best wishes for 2023!