Wednesday, November 10, 2021

River Falls native works on Tesla Gigafactory

Article Photo - River Falls native works on Tesla Gigafactory

Nathan Kelly, 20, took a traveling welding job that led him to Tesla’s Gigafactory after graduating from CVTC. His job in Texas will be complete in November.


Nathan Kelly said he’s living on caffeine and music.

The 20-year-old Eau Claire man is working 80 to 90 hours a week. Others might complain at a fever pitch, but for Kelly, it’s an opportunity to hone his skills in the trade so he can progress in his field.

That field is welding, building and fabricating for Comau, a company that contracts with Tesla for robot programming at its new “Gigafactory” in Austin, Texas. The massive factory is a $1 billion plant on 2,100 acres of land and will employ 5,000 people.

As Tesla starts to add employees to the plant, Kelly continues to prep the plant for several automobile lines.

His degree in welding and metal fabrication from Chippewa Valley Technical College got him there.

Following His Passion
Kelly moved from Michigan to River Falls when he was 10. He graduated from River Falls High School and then moved to Eau Claire to attend CVTC.

He was introduced to his passion for welding as a sophomore at River Falls High School. He even came up with his own coursework for an additional class because he wanted to further develop his skills.

“After my first class in high school, I wanted to keep doing this, practicing it,” Kelly said. “So I talked to my principal, and I’d heard of different people creating their own classes. I created a schedule of what I would be doing – an independent study.”

Kelly used his early education in welding to fix things throughout the school, like bleachers or other metal structures, that would otherwise have caused administrators to hire out the work. After getting a taste of welding in high school, he knew he wanted to continue that path at CVTC.

“From what I heard, CVTC was one of the best trade schools,” he said. “There have been plenty of instances where I’ve wondered, ‘Where will I use the things they’re teaching me?’ Now I’m using what I’ve learned on a regular basis, and it’s pretty rewarding.”

After two years of education at CVTC, he graduated from the Welding Fabrication program in May 2021.

In June, he accepted a traveling welder and builder position with Comau, the international industrial automation and robotics company.

Now Nathan finds himself helping to build auto lines in the new Tesla plant.

Kelly appreciates his education from CVTC more every day.

“At the time when I was learning some of these things, I was completely confused as to why we needed to know it,” he said of his CVTC coursework. “I never thought I’d use some of it. But now, being here, I feel very prepared for this job. There have been plenty of times where my colleagues don’t know how to go about doing something – something I was taught – and it makes me feel good to make suggestions and show them what I’ve learned.”

Nathan also said current students in the welding program should consider themselves lucky to be able to work with such modern equipment.

“I can definitely say that being able to fully understand the new equipment is key,” Kelly said. “In the long run, you should also be able to go up to any machine or metal and use it to your advantage or fabricate whatever you need. I’m able to do that because of CVTC.”

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