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Tesla is looking for workers for its Buffalo factory

Tesla Inc. is stepping up its efforts to find workers for its Buffalo solar panel factory as it starts installing its new solar roof on customer homes.

The company, which said it started making its new solar roofing tiles in Buffalo at the end of last year, is holding five information sessions over the next month to seek out potential workers for its portion of the South Park Avenue factory.

The information sessions are the most extensive in-person recruitment efforts that Tesla has made since it acquired SolarCity in November 2016, although the company has had more than two dozen different jobs posted online for more than a year.

Tesla currently has 34 different types of jobs posted on its website, ranging from managers and engineers to human resources positions and production assistants. Tesla, like its partner, Panasonic, is setting pay at $14 an hour for entry-level production jobs.

Panasonic, which started making solar panels in its portion of the Buffalo factory last year and expanded to the production of the solar modules that go into those panels earlier this year, has built a workforce of more than 300 people.

Tesla's hiring, however, has grown at a much slower pace. The company has not said how many of its own employees currently work at the Buffalo factory, only that total employment there is more than 500.

The production jobs, like those at Panasonic, will be built around 12-hour shifts. Tesla has said it plans to staff its factory with four shifts of workers. It will have two day shifts, running from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., with one shift running Sunday to Tuesday, and another from Thursday to Saturday. Each will alternate on Wednesdays. The two night shifts, running from 7 p.m. to 7:30 a.m., will follow the same pattern.

Tesla's production in Buffalo will focus on its new solar roof product, which looks like a conventional roof but has power-producing solar cells inside. While Tesla has said it has started making its solar roof in Buffalo, it has not provided any details on how many have been produced. The company views the solar roof as a key product that will help increase its solar installations and open the door to a new group of potential customers.

Tesla mainly has been testing the solar roof on the homes of employees and company insiders, although one California customer last week tweeted out photos of the solar roof that had been installed on her home, indicating that residential installations have begun.

"The Tesla Solar Roof is every bit as beautiful as I hoped," the customer tweeted.

She said the new roof replaced an older metal roof on her two-story, 2,000-square-foot house and cost about $55,000 after incentives.

About 40 percent of the tiles installed on her roof have solar cells within them. The rest are dummy tiles that don't generate power but look the same as the ones that do. Tesla only installs enough cells in the roofing tiles to generate the power generating capacity desired for the system, in this case 9,900 watts.

"We get lots and lots of sun in San Jose, and expect to produce more than we need," the customer tweeted. "The Tesla install team was outstanding."

The installation, which included one of Tesla's Powerwall batteries to store excess electricity generated by the system for use at night or when the sun isn't shining, took a little more than three weeks. "We had a ton of rain throughout the project, so it took longer than expected," the customer said.

Tesla has said it has a big backlog of orders for its solar roof from customers who were willing to put down a deposit, although it has never said exactly how many it has received.

The ramp-up in production in Buffalo is happening as Tesla has been intentionally scaling back its solar energy business to conserve cash as it launches its new Model 3 electric vehicle, which is viewed as an essential mass-market product that can greatly increase the company's revenues, slow the rate that it is burning through cash and put it on a path toward profitability.

Tesla's solar energy installations fell last year to their lowest level since 2014. The company said in February that it does not expect growth in its solar business to start growing again until later this year.

The information sessions will be held:

  • April 12 at 1 p.m. at the Sheridan Parkside Community Building, 169 Sheridan Parkside, Town of Tonawanda
  • April 17 at 10 a.m. at the Belle Center, 103 Maryland St.
  • April 24 at 1 p.m. at the Erie Community College downtown campus, Room 420, 21 Ellicott St.
  • April 26 at 10 a.m. at the Delavan Grider Community Center, 877 E. Delavan Ave.
  • May 4 at 10 a.m. at the Valley Community Center, 93 Leddy St.
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