by Corrine Casanova
Panasonic is a nearly 100-year-old global company with headquarters in Japan, but when it comes to lithium-ion battery cell manufacturing for Tesla vehicles, they are absolutely made in Nevada. There are divisions of Panasonic all over the USA with different functions and specific focuses. Panasonic Energy of North America (PENA) is their northern Nevada division of Panasonic USA. While PENA opened its doors in the Tesla Gigafactory in 2014, the first battery cell was produced and delivered to Tesla in January 2017.
Lauren Garfinkel, Panasonic’s Recruitment and Branding Specialist, has been with PENA for nearly a year and has already seen exponential growth in her division. In April 2017, there were 400 Panasonic employees in the Gigafactory, today there are about 1,600 employees with a goal of hiring 2,500 workers by 2019.
As Panasonic continues its rapid growth in northern Nevada, Garfinkel explained some of the common misconceptions about PENA:
Misconception #1: PENA is owned by Tesla. “Panasonic and Tesla are two very separate companies under the same Giga-roof. Panasonic is a tenant of the Tesla Gigafactory, and our partnership and collaboration is with Tesla. One does not own the other. This is a special relationship. Tesla is very much Tesla, and Panasonic is very much Panasonic. We have different cultures and methodologies. We wear blue and they wear red. We come together and make battery cells,” Garfinkel explained. In essence, the two companies work side by side, but operate independently- Panasonic sells the battery cells to Tesla. Previously, Tesla purchased the battery cells from Panasonic, and they were shipped from their factory in Japan to Tesla’s factory in Fremont, CA. Today, Panasonic manufacturing the cells locally in the Gigafactory provides significant cost savings to both companies. Panasonic’s A Better Life, A Better World, is a branding philosophy that seems to mesh well with Tesla as their mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy through electric vehicles and energy products.
Misconception #2: PENA is exclusively recruiting workers from other states, especially California, to live and work in northern Nevada. It turns out that the majority of the 1,600 PENA employees are local to northern Nevada. While it is true they recruit from outside the state, their main focus is Nevada. In fact, PENA has leased a facility off of E. Moana Lane exclusively for recruitment efforts and to make applying for a job with Panasonic much easier. There are currently 14 recruiters at this location.
Garfinkel explained, “The 90 percent of the employees from northern Nevada that comprise our workforce are a diverse group. They range from age 18 to people in their 60’s who have retired from previous careers and want to try something new. This diversifies our culture and makes it unique. While it is true that we do recruit outside of Nevada, our goal is to hire as many local Nevadans as possible. Our employees are our biggest advocates as we have a great referral program. Jobs here require many different skillsets. About 85 percent of our employees at the Gigafactory are in production while the other 15 percent work in the office in an administrative capacity.” All open positions are posted on Panasonicnv.com.
Misconception #3: PENA is manufacturing electronics, refrigerators and microwaves at the Gigafactory. While Panasonic is known worldwide for these types of products, they are not manufacturing them here. Currently, they are only producing batteries for the Tesla vehicles and eventually the energy storage at the Gigafactory. This energy storage product will minimize reliance on your utilities as they integrate with solar energy to store excess energy and make it available when you need it. Thanks to the Gigafactory and Panasonic’s partnership with Tesla, the batteries that are required to power Tesla vehicles are now made in the USA and can be produced much more efficiently and economically.
Misconception #4: Panasonic is hiring warehouse workers for the Gigafactory. PENA Gigafactory employees are doing production and manufacturing work. A skilled workforce is key to their success and that is why they created their own training program with Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC). Upon program completion of the first two certifications, employees start as Machine Operators at $17/hour and are eligible for full benefits 30 days after starting employment.
Workforce development is paramount to Panasonic. That is why they initiated the Panasonic Preferred Pathway (P3) Program with TMCC. When learning how the P3 program got started, it is like hearing a start-up company’s first steps. Innovative thinking and a partnership with TMCC and the Governor’s Office created a self-paced certification program valued at $1,400 which is free to Nevadans who are accepted into the program where they are guaranteed an interview with Panasonic at program completion. WINN funding provides scholarships to Nevadans who been resident for at least one year to cover the cost of the P3 program.
Panasonic recruiting lead, Zachary Kumler, is the mastermind behind the program. He recognized a talent gap between a skilled workforce and getting the job done. Initially hired to recruit veterans into Panasonic, he began looking at the talent in the manufacturing sector in the local area and found it to be a dry pipeline because of the skills gap. He explained, “I started looking at more creative ways to get veterans into Panasonic which is something I knew we needed to do because we needed leadership established at the basepoint, and then I started looking at the overall market and what our market share is for manufacturing. Governor Sandoval has really pushed for diversifying Nevada and especially since manufacturing is short about 33 percent on manufacturing jobs. I began to ask how are we going to get people trained in these middle skills and fit into the Panasonic culture as a whole? We want to hire within Nevada so we started working with TMCC. Fortunately, for us, being a large company and working with Governor Sandoval we can say we have good jobs, but we need people. TMCC really ran with it.”
Interim Dean of Technical Services at TMCC, J. Kyle Dalpe, Ph.D. explained how the P3 program was able to get up and running so quickly. “In fall 2016, we had about 75 students in our manufacturing class, so when Panasonic came in here and said we need 2,000 plus trained people, we both had a problem that needed solving. TMCC can create a talent pipeline, but we need people in the pipeline to get them graduated. In December 2016, TMCC met with Panasonic and provided a menu of modular classes we had already developed using federal tax funding. They then selected the modules that their technicians would need in the jobs they needed to fill. We packaged the existing curriculum into what we call an industry recognized credential. This 10 credit certification is stackable and can be used in a more traditional certificate achievement program of 30 credits or more.”
The P3 program is getting noticed nationwide. Recently, the University of Wisconsin came to Panasonic to adopt the model for their state. Kumler concluded, “Right now my big push is northern and southern Nevada. In addition to TMCC, the College of Southern Nevada will be adopting the program. I am meeting with manufacturers in both northern and southern Nevada to have them adopt this certification program too. If we increase the talent pool, it benefits everybody and keeps our workforce in the state.”