Tesla Motors, which is on a mission to bring electric cars to the masses, now has another goal: to become a leading employer of America’s military veterans.
“We want to be known throughout the veteran community as a great place to work,” Arnnon Geshuri, Tesla’s vice president of human resources, said in an interview. “Veterans are a great source of talent for Tesla, and we’re going after it.”
Tesla’s workforce is exploding as it expands production of its Model S, prepares to launch the Model X crossover SUV and enters new markets overseas. The company now has more than 6,000 employees, and of those, 300 – or roughly 5 percent–are veterans, including its logistics director, former Navy officer Adam Plumpton. Another 600 veteran candidates are in the hiring pipeline, according to Geshuri.
“Tesla has risen to the top” among companies known for creating veteran-friendly workplaces, said Ted Daywalt, the president and chief executive of VetJobs, the nation’s leading military job board. “They have a good reputation. They hire veterans who can talk to other veterans. There is a language in the military, and having someone who can speak the lingo is important.”
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Veterans are a good fit for Tesla because many gained advanced technical, electrical and mechanical skills while serving in the military–skills applicable to making electric cars. They are also used to working as part of tightly-knit groups.
Greg Reichow, Tesla’s vice president of production, says the company is eager to hire veterans because they’ve found them to be excellent employees who share the company’s sense of mission.
“At Tesla we’re not just building cars. We’re trying to transform transportation,” Reichow said. “They also know how to lead teams, focus teams and function on teams, and they have incredible integrity and discipline.”
Tesla is aggressively recruiting veterans while trying to create a culture where veterans feel supported and appreciated once they are onboard.
Jason Noma, a former Army sergeant and intelligence analyst, focuses specifically on military recruiting as a member of Tesla’s burgeoning HR team, and has helped increase efforts to hire veterans through word-of-mouth, partnerships with veterans groups and recent events like the Oakland Veteran Job Fair.
In the third-floor cafeteria of the Tesla factory in Fremont, a vintage “Uncle Sam” poster invites veterans to connect with other veterans via a series of casual monthly gatherings held at the factory. All vets, regardless of military branch or length of service, are welcome to attend and share ideas on how to improve internal programs. Many vets wear exclusive T-shirts emblazoned with the Tesla logo and the American flag, and Veterans Day is a companywide paid holiday. But the company’s support for former and current military personnel does not end there.
“HR was phenomenal with my deployment,” said Jason Deming, a 35-year-old vehicle test technician who is also a member of the Air National Guard and was deployed last year to Afghanistan with the Moffett Field-based 129th Rescue Wing. “I can serve my country and save lives but also work on the forefront of technology.”
Deployments can be disruptive for both employers and employees, but Tesla industrial engineering technician and National Guard member Megan Gates said the company was very accommodating when she, in August of 2011, was activated to Camp Roberts near Paso Robles for two years. Tesla held her job open for her, and Gates returned to work in November.
“I spent two years living in barracks repairing equipment and supporting returning units,” said Gates, 35. “But Tesla kept in touch with me, and the company made the transition back super easy. I came straight back to work.”
While Gates was stationed at Camp Roberts, she became a squad leader and was promoted to sergeant. At Tesla, she was recently promoted to a production supervisor in powertrain, which is basically the brain of Tesla’s electric cars. Her promotion goes into effect after she returns from two weeks of Guard training at Ft. Irwin later this month.
“I give it 100 percent, whether I’m in uniform in the Guard or in jeans and a T-shirt at Tesla,” said Gates. –The military gives you technical skills and experience working on a team, and manufacturing is all about following directions but being flexible.”
Other companies also appreciate the value of veterans in the workforce. Nationally, the unemployment rate for veterans has dropped to 5.4 percent, compared to 6.1 percent for the overall population, according to June data released Thursday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Companies like PG&E, Home Depot and Walmart have made major commitments to hiring veterans. Google has created an internal Google Veterans Network and has held career development workshops for veterans looking to transition their skills and experience to private sector jobs.
“Hiring veterans is not just the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do,” said Bryan Goettel, director of communications for Hiring Our Heroes, a program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “Tesla is a new company, and being at 5 percent is a great starting point. Veterans make great employees; they bring so many skills that help a company thrive.”
But while the unemployment rate for veterans is less than the national average, many veterans can feel isolated once they start civilian jobs, or find jobs without clear opportunities for advancement. Veteran advocates say having veterans clubs or groups within a company–formally or informally–makes a tangible impact on creating a veteran-friendly work culture.
“A corporate hiring commitment is often not enough,” said Colleen Corliss, a spokeswoman for Swords to Plowshares, a San Francisco-based group that helps veterans break through the cultural, educational, psychological and economic barriers they often face in their transition back to the civilian world. “Tesla has really made an effort to forge relationships among veterans, and it really makes a difference. Younger veterans are interested in long-term careers with technical skills, and knowing that there is a veteran community within a company goes a long way toward retention.”