Having just returned from GlassBuild 2014, I couldn’t help but reflect on the contrast to the last Fensterbau show I attended in 2012. Interestingly enough, my flashback on Fensterbau 2012 has nothing to do with the show itself but rather a visit the Porsche AG facility in Stuttgart, Germany. It was here that I took away a very important lesson in window and door fabrication.
Personally, I have virtually no interest in sports cars. In fact, what I learned at Porsche had nothing to do with flat-6s or Doppelkupplungs, but rather a well-orchestrated and precise melding of technology and the people that were empowered with it. The logistics and material handing at the facility was nothing short of spectacular. The computer integration manufacturing system (CIM) was remarkable and the enterprise resource planning (ERP) brilliant, but what our tour guide focused on for the majority of the tour was: the people that worked at the facility, the years they spent there developing their craft, the areas of the facility devoted to the employee – for both personal time and professional development, and the input each employee had towards the product they made and the overall culture at the facility. The guide himself was a 50-year veteran of the company. The decision to work at Porsche wasn’t so much about a job, but rather a career – lifelong career often made as a teen and ending in retirement.
Much like the contrast observed between these two shows, it can be argued that these same contrasts between Europe and North America exist on shop floors. I am not suggesting that North American companies don’t have long-term and devoted employees. Nor would I suggest we as North American employers don’t treat our employees right. There are hundreds of models within our industry alone that would strongly suggest otherwise. But the culture of employee engagement just somehow ran deeper at Porsche.
Yes, Porsche is a world-class brand and it’s an incredibly sexy car, which is going to give it some advantages when it comes to attracting employee buy-in. But this same culture was also in evidence in the fenestration industry in Siegenia AG in Wilnsdorf, Germany. It was here during a manufacturing plant tour that we came across a group of young workers who looked to be about the same age as my (then) 15-year-old daughter. They were young, incredibly enthusiastic and eager to interact with their North American guests. They were working at different capacities on both new and retired factory equipment. They were not only learning a trade but contributing to the shop floor with basic tooling end electromechanical processes. They were apprenticing in such fields as tool and die and robotics. Having completed their apprenticeship they would most likely go on to work for the company with the ambition to possibly retire there as well.
Is this system perfect? Maybe not, but is has allowed the modern German economy to be one of building things rather than an economy narrowed down to just providing services.
I’m not about to preach. We here at Euro Vinyl Windows have no apprenticeship program to speak of. Our education system and labour laws make it cumbersome. Nor, at least here in Canada, does the scale of our companies allow for such a system. It was a simple observation and one that not only inspired me but made me want to do better. In the end, that’s the purpose of a trade show: to be inspired, to learn, to want do better. As I continue to visit our industries’ trade shows, often this inspiration comes from beyond the trade show bar code.
Fit & Finish and other Fenestration Review columns are online at fenestrationreview.com > Columnists
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