Running a nuclear power plant isn’t exactly an entry-level job. (Photo via NRC)

U.S. job growth remains sluggish, but many businesses in the energy sector are facing hiring difficulties. Aging workers in “traditional” energy fields — including oil, natural gas and electricity related services — are starting to retire, taking their expertise with them, and there are few applicants with the needed experience to take their place.

While expiring federal incentives create uncertainty over continued job growth in the booming wind and solar industries, finding workers to fill positions in the traditional energy sector has been a problem for years. In 2007, former President George W. Bush worked with the Department of Labor to create training programs that would bring new talent in the energy industry and allow older workers to retire without the company scrambling to fill positions.

When the initiative started, the Department of Labor noted that more jobs would become available in 5 to 10 years, since the average employee in the traditional energy field was over 50 and close to retiring.

Online job search giant has listings for more than 100,000 energy-related jobs. Many of these employers include electric and power companies, as well as government, small private companies and publicly traded corporations. The median salary for traditional energy-related jobs is about $60,000 per year, compared to about $45,000 for the average U.S. worker.

Xcel Energy, based in Minneapolis, employs about 11,000 in its operations. The company has training and development programs for its staff to learn more about the industry and advance in different careers within the company.

Xcel’s average employee has been with the company for 27 years. The company expects to replace most of its retiring workforce over the next several years.

Steve Crumley, Xcel’s director of Talent Acquisition, said that working for a company like Xcel has benefits employees may not see as much in other industries. Xcel offers long-term employees a 401K and a pension plan. Most of the company’s new jobs are entry-level, while more advanced jobs are harder to fill.

Xcel has training and development programs for its staff to learn more about the industry and advance in different careers in the company. The company uses technology to recruit new talent, often seeking qualified applicants from other industries.

“We don’t use national job boards,” Crumley said. “We use local workforce and Veterans centers. We advertise in niche places and places that focus on energy. We create our job postings and make them where they are easily found online using search engine optimization.”

The hardest jobs to fill at Xcel are nuclear power operators and managers.

“The nuclear power field is a very mature industry,” Crumley said. “There hasn’t been a lot of opportunity to enter those careers. We haven’t found a lot of people with mid-career level experience in the field.”