Tesla: How to fill 6,500 jobs

Eloy Jara, left, and Robert Benner, right, show their support of Tesla's presence in Nevada at the State Capitol last Thursday.

Eloy Jara, left, and Robert Benner, right, show their support of Tesla's presence in Nevada at the State Capitol last Thursday.

Workforce developers may soon be working overtime to train the thousands of workers Tesla Motors Inc. needs to operate its planned battery factory near Reno.

The electric car maker says it will hire 6,500 workers for its 5-million-square-foot lithium ion battery plant going up in the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center off Interstate 80, east of Reno.

For those tasked with training and supplying northern Nevada’s workforce, the welcome news raised as many questions as answers.

“We’ve never gotten specifics on what type of jobs,” says Ann Silver, executive director of JOIN Inc., a training agency with offices throughout northern Nevada. “That’s the only link that has been missing for those of us who are passionate about finding Nevadans jobs. What are those jobs?”

The anticipated jobs will pay an average wage in excess of $25 per hour with full benefits, according to Gov. Brian Sandoval, who with Elon Musk, Tesla CEO and founder, and a host of Nevada officials and legislators announced the deal last week.

Tesla promises to give Nevadans and veterans hiring priority. And the Palo Alto, Calif., company hopes to have the plant up and running in 2017 in order to deliver a lower-priced, mass-market electric vehicle that Musk says was the car maker’s goal from the start.

That’s all that’s publicly known about the jobs, but Silver says JOIN is ready to start working once more details become available.

In July, the agency received $3.5 million in funding from the federal Workforce Investment Act it can put to training Tesla workers.

The agency contracts with community colleges, such as Truckee Meadows Community College, Western Nevada College and Great Basin College as well as private trainers.

“WNC and TMCC already do much of the training so it’s a matter of ramping up our capacity,” says Jim New, dean of Technical Sciences at TMCC in Reno. “We have the capacity to absorb more people right now in areas such as machining, sheet metal, even welding.”

The one issue, says New, could be money.

“The only obstacle we might encounter is having adequate resources to add more faculty or shop space,” says New. “I hope we’ll know very soon what type of jobs they’ll need.”

With that many openings, there will likely be a range of job types, says Ray Bacon, executive director of the Nevada Manufacturing Association. Bacon anticipates high-level engineering positions, mid-level manufacturing jobs and a mix of basic skills jobs in logistics, shipping and front office or administration.

Nevada’s prepared for the last group, he says.

“We have those people because that’s only a high school diploma, and some practical skills and on the job training,” says Bacon.

The engineers will likely be on loan from Panasonic Corp., Tesla’s battery partner, at least initially.

It is the middle group — the factory floor workers — that Bacon thinks will require the bulk of the training needed to ramp up.

But before that can happen, trainers have to know the makeup of the manufacturing operation.

“I’m not sure even Tesla knows what the machinery looks like yet,” says Bacon. “Will all the training be easy? No. Is it doable? I think so.”

Dennis Cuneo says it is definitely doable. The former Toyota Motor Corp. senior vice president and current site selection advisor, says the factory is probably similar to an auto plant.

Cuneo says auto makers, including Toyota, Hyundai Motor Co. and Mercedes-Benz USA, have for years successfully located large plants in the rural areas where workforce issues were considered a deterrent.

“With the right kind of training, on the job training, it can be done and has been done throughout the south,” says Cuneo. “Based on my experience, it absolutely can be done.”

Cuneo says job applicants will come from all over northern Nevada and as far away as Sacramento. Some will move here to work for a “hot” company such as Tesla.

“They’re going to have 10 applicants for each job so they can pick from the cream of the crop,” says Cuneo. “They’re going to get college graduates applying for $25 an hour jobs.”

The state says there were 16,500 job seekers in Washoe and Storey counties, 2,100 in Carson City and 2,250 in Lyon County in July.

“We have nearly 15,000 unemployed who with some training could certainly fill the role in meeting those requirements,” say Mike Kazmierski of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.


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