Above: VEKA’s Education Center includes graphics about how resin is made into extruded vinyl, plus includes a wall showcasing VEKA’s products.
Through the past year, Window + Door and VEKA have had the opportunity to talk about VEKA’s corporate social responsibility and the importance of educating and training the next generation of manufacturing experts. VEKA is in the process of building out a new training and education center at its North American headquarters in Fombell, Pennsylvania. Joe Peilert, president and CEO; Kevin Seiling, vice president, engineering; and Steve Dillon, corporate marketing director, discuss the thought process behind the training center and what the company hopes to achieve with this project.
Window + Door: What was the impetus behind building this training center?
Joe Peilert: As the leading global supplier of PVC window profile systems, our goal is to be a full-service solutions provider to our customers. That is accomplished in many ways: through quality and on-time delivery, but also through a comprehensive services platform we call VEKA Essentials™. Part of VEKA Essentials is our training program (VEKA Academy) and our consultative window design process. The new Engineering Design Center is the perfect place to facilitate a comprehensive and collaborative window design process. The goal is to offer our customers a way to compress the time from design to successful market launch, whether the challenge is to streamline their current product offering or bring a brand-new product to market meeting Energy Star 7.0.
Kevin Seiling: VEKA brings to the table a wealth of vinyl window and door design experience to complement our customers’ world-class manufacturing expertise. VEKA Academy teaches Windows 101 and the design center will allow our customers to engineer solutions and designs on the spot. This same VEKA Academy and design center will be extremely useful in training VEKA production, quality and field service personnel to understand the relationship between profiles and window assemblies.
A good example is a seemingly innocuous profile, such as a common sash for a vinyl patio door. Not only does the common sash have a weatherstrip inserted and gets wept for water drainage, but it also gets punched for rollers, and sometimes holds multiple reinforcing and locking sets as well as anti-take-out block or deflection clips, all while being welded to itself or a dissimilar profile and sometimes being reversible—a tall order for any profile.
WD: Can you walk us through the progression of the Education Center?
Steve Dillon: In developing the Education Center, we first had to consider the audience. At VEKA Academy, many of the attendees don’t get wide exposure to the market, so we needed to step them through who we are and the role we play in the industry we serve.
The same goes for our employee onboarding process. Most do not know who we are and how our products are used. The Education Center is the hands-on component that we were missing. We start the training off with our global footprint and what makes up our DNA. We then go through the PVC resin manufacturing process, how we receive and process it, and then how to extrude it. From there, we showcase the inherent properties and benefits of vinyl, all the products we make, and which market each product serves.
Quality is the first benchmark, and we discuss the steps we take from the time raw material enters our facility, to the time the extruded products get shipped out. The center also features operator types, hardware, gaskets, glass, and concludes with environmental and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Once the Education Center is complete, we hope to build a history center, which will round out the complete story of VEKA in North America and globally.
WD: How are you bringing the industry at large into this Education Center?
SD: We’ve developed many relationships with other industry suppliers, and they have actively participated in VEKA Academy as sponsors. This is just one more opportunity for them to have a permanent display in our Education Center as part of what goes into the fabrication of windows and doors, and continuing to educate new and growing individuals in the industry.
WD: This area showcases a lot of information about the company, its products and the industry at large. How do you hope to maximize this new space?
SD: The first step is developing a guideline document and training current managers on key discussion points in the Education Center—a curriculum on walking someone through it. We feel as though there will be very high-level, informative presentations in the room as well as general walk-throughs, all dependent on the audience. We want leaders in our company to add their own experiences at VEKA. I feel discussions are more genuine and new employees can imagine themselves in a career role within the organization. Once we establish a flow and final adjustments, we can start examining how we can transfer the knowledge to our sister facilities through video or interactive environments like 360 technology or maybe even augmented reality.
WD: Having such a powerful, engaging space for training and onboarding is especially key as companies grapple with labor. What are some of the biggest employment challenges? How does VEKA work to address these?
JP: In general, manufacturing is competing for employees with jobs that may offer flexible hours or hybrid “work from home” scenarios. Our goal is to get our team and job seekers excited about our technology and career development opportunities. The Education Center is a key element in our strategy to introduce our team members to our industry, window technology and a supply chain that ends with a homeowner enjoying a product that makes their home safer, more energy efficient and beautiful.
Beyond the product, it is our business culture as a global family-owned and managed company that sets us apart. Employee turnover during year one is still a challenge. Once our new team members adjust to the manufacturing environment, build friendships and take advantage of the development opportunities, we lose very few employees.
WD: How does VEKA spread the message about manufacturing as an exciting, rewarding career?
JP: We have many employees with over 30 years of experience and a tremendous career progression. For young employees, these team members are terrific examples of what they can accomplish as part of VEKA. Our award-winning, German-style, dual work/study apprenticeship program is a great way to connect us to schools and the community to reach the best talent in the region. It’s been hugely successful for us in attracting, developing and retaining great team members.
WD: We spoke last at length about VEKA's We Care, We Act, We Grow and corporate social responsibility. How does the Education Center tie all of this together?
JP: The Education Center is an important part of our commitment to deliver on the vision and values we have spelled out in We Care, We Act, We Grow: “We Act, to help our employees grow, personally and professionally in developing the most competent experts in the industry.”