Tesla Motors' Cyber Rodeo was a star-studded bash that was part marketing, part sales and a whole lot of spectacle. But the party also had a more conventional, less glamorous purpose: showing off the company to the types of workers it’s desperate to hire.
Tesla has said it will need to find 20,000 workers for its factory outside Austin, everything from manufacturing talent to mechanical and software engineers. That could be a daunting task in Central Texas, where a sub-3 per cent unemployment rate amid a surge of corporate expansions and relocations in the area has driven up demand for skilled workers.
Yael Lawson, chief operations officer at Workforce Solutions Capital Area in Austin saw the event as “a useful recruiting tool”. She said that Tesla coming to town has garnered more attention for the manufacturing industry, helping her showcase her company’s scholarships and training.
Of course, hiring wasn’t the focus of the party. There was also live music, a petting zoo and roller skaters in cowboy hats, turning the factory that’s three times the size of the Pentagon into something more like a carnival. Dust from a nearby construction site blew towards the factory, reminiscent of the fine white chalk of Nevada’s annual Burning Man festival.
A bulk of the partygoers were Tesla workers, many of whom brought along friends and family. Employees of SpaceX and The Boring Company, clad in branded hats and shirts, helped fill out the ranks. But throughout the event, it was clear that recruiting was also at the forefront.
At least nine representatives from Austin Community College, which has partnered with Tesla since 2020, were also in attendance. Tesla and ACC are developing “cutting-edge training programmes that prepare students for careers in manufacturing — one of the region’s fastest-growing industries”, a representative of the school said.
The local school district, Del Valle ISD, counted board members, its superintendent and its workforce development team among the attendees.
“Students have many choices in a variety of industries at our schools, Tesla adds one more piece to this,” said communications director Christopher Weddle. “We continually work to build relationships with local businesses and industry areas for the benefit of our students.”
Weaving through the heavy machinery, art installations and drink stands, local engineering students stared in awe at cutaways of the Model Y and stacks of the new 4680 battery cells. Most imposing was the company’s so-called “Giga Press”, the largest die-casting machine in the world, used to create an SUV frame out of just two solid pieces of metal.
There was no shortage of things to do and sights to see. The food truck choices included South African, halal, tacos and barbecue. You could pet some baby goats, take in the art installations and the massive Tesla coils, or win some stuffed animals from various carnival games.
There were drinks on hand to help pass the time in the long lines at the merchandise tables, where many people queued for a chance to buy items like a Tesla hoodie ($90), Cyber Rodeo T-shirt ($35) or trucker hat ($30), or a branding iron with a Tesla logo ($50).
Being a Cyber Rodeo, there were multiple mechanical bulls for riding, and — earlier in the day — a real one, too: Bevo, the live mascot for the University of Texas at Austin.
Music blared from multiple stages, including one above the factory’s main entrance where Austin’s own Gary Clark Jr performed a set. Below, the company’s assembly robots clicked and whirred along to their own beat under actual spotlights, miming the moves they’ll make when cars are built inside the factory. It was a dramatic flair, like something out of the Walt Disney playbook.
As an advertisement for the business, there were unsurprisingly some details left out, like Tesla’s history of dealing with claims of harassment and racism at its factories. In October, the company was hit with a $137 million penalty as the result of a discrimination lawsuit brought by a former worker at Tesla’s Fremont, California factory. Tesla has asked for the penalty to be reduced, and a judge said in January it was “extremely high.”
Chief executive Elon Musk instead focused on the future. He said he believes the Austin factory could make one million cars per year — including the Cybertruck and other models — and guessed that Tesla could make up about 20 per cent of the global automotive market some day.
Mr Musk also lavished attention on the company’s as-yet-unrealised efforts to develop fully autonomous vehicles, as well as a humanoid robot that he’s said could be Tesla’s “most important product” one day.
These are all high bars, and he will need an army to reach them. But after the Cyber Rodeo, and Tesla’s overall charm offensive in Austin, Mr Musk may have convinced more locals to join the ranks.
Ed Latson, executive director of the Austin Regional Manufacturers Association, said the event was “exemplary of the energy and excitement around the brand, locally and globally. They do a good job leveraging that enthusiasm in their marketing but also in their recruiting of talent which is so critical to their success".