Technology

Tesla’s Berlin Hub Can’t Hire Enough People, or Keep Them

As Elon Musk attempts to manage Twitter after mass layoffs in November, his flagship company Tesla is also facing staffing problems globally, with vacancies doubling since mid-June, coupled with exits at its newest gigafactory in Germany. 

When the gigafactory in Berlin opened in March, it had a target to produce 5,000 vehicles a week by the end of this year. But it is far from reaching its goals after facing major recruitment problems—the company has so far managed to hire just 7,000 people out of a planned 12,000. This lack of personnel is coupled with missed ambitious production targets; in 2022 Musk told German media he expected to build half a million Teslas in Berlin in 2022.

The company is also losing experienced personnel, according to former and current employees at the gigafactory. They say that current staffers are leaving jobs due to low and unequal pay and inexperienced management in the highly competitive German manufacturing sector. Tesla did not respond to WIRED’s requests for comment.

One current employee, who requested anonymity out of fear of losing their job, describes the Berlin gigafactory as “total chaos.” “Some people are off sick longer than they’ve actually worked. There are people who I haven’t seen working for three weeks in six months. Many people are signed off sick because the motivation isn’t there,” they say, blaming poor working conditions. The exits involve temporary staff and permanent employees who have been there for over a year, hired before the gigafactory opened, they claim. 

Worldwide, Tesla reached a record number of vacancies for the year in November, listing almost 7,500 jobs. This is double the postings in mid-June, according to data from its own website. Though most of these vacancies were in the US, Germany was in second place, with 386 vacancies advertised at the Berlin plant on November 11, including one for a “high-volume recruiter.”

Local labor specialists say it is unlikely Tesla will be able to find more qualified workers to fill the gap, because it is seen as an unattractive employer in the heavily unionized German auto sector, and it competes with rival carmaker Volkswagen for skilled workers in the Berlin area. The Job Centre in nearby Frankfurt (Oder) said on October 4 that Tesla had hired 1,000 previously unemployed workers already, calling it “the biggest recruitment project since reunification,” and according to some reports, Tesla is already the largest private employer in Brandenburg.

According to the German metalworkers union IG Metall, Tesla is paying 20 percent less than similar businesses based on staff contracts and job descriptions. IG Metall representative Birgit Dietze wrote in a press release in June, “We know from active IG Metall members that recruitment is not happening at the planned speed.”

Holger Bonin, research director at the Institute of Labor Economics, based in Bonn, said that this was a problem with the specialist job market in the country generally, not helped by the fact that many qualified workers in the Berlin region can easily commute to Volkswagen’s main plant in Wolfsburg instead.

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