Masters of investment

Veka UK Group knows a company must go the extra mile if it is to expect staff to do the same, and exceptional hard work should be recognised and celebrated. Operations director Paul Armstrong discusses Veka UK Group’s ‘Young Employee of the Year’, the MSc he’s undertaking, and a mutual investment of time and effort.

We believe that if a company supports and encourages staff – investing in their training and development – then staff, in turn, are more inclined to invest themselves into the business.

There are more than 380 people working at our Burnley HQ and, through things like ‘Spirit’ maps, the company strives to ensure that every person is happy and fulfilled in their role. (Unlike traditional appraisals, Spirit maps help us work with employees to find out what we can do to help them achieve their goals in the year ahead.) The result is a hard-working, committed workforce with shared goals, and almost 400 positive spokespeople for the business.

Veka UK Group is well known for staff retention, long service and high levels of employee engagement, so it’s no surprise that the company was named Employer of the Year at the last prestigious Burnley Business Awards.

At this year’s upcoming Burnley Business Awards event, Veka UK Group’s graduate trainee in operations management Khaleel Mahmood has been shortlisted in the Young Employee of the Year category.

Since joining us, Khaleel has consistently gone above and beyond in every task, and has thrown himself into every training opportunity. For that reason, Veka UK Group decided to support Khaleel through a Masters Degree in Supply Chain Management and Logistics. An MSc is something that he’s always wanted to do, but prior to joining Veka, he hadn’t had the opportunity due to the investment in time required, coupled with the significant financial outlay.

Veka UK Group arranged to pay for the course, and cover the time that Khaleel will be required to attend on-campus training.

Some companies can be hesitant about supporting staff in such a way because, ultimately, it is the individual that gains the qualification (rather than the business) and they would take it with them if they chose to leave. At Veka UK Group, however, we find that by investing in our staff, and creating the ideal work/life balance, the chance of people being tempted away is so significantly reduced that we are happy to provide all the training opportunities we can, for the good of the individual and of the business.

Already well known for competitive apprenticeships and other training schemes, Veka UK Group introduced a graduate recruitment programme in 2017. We’re always happy to be challenged on the way things are done, so that we never become complacent in our success. By taking on graduates, as well as recruiting people from other roles and other industries, alongside school leavers and so on, we continue to increase the diversity of perspectives, ideas, skills and solutions that come into the business.

I was on the original panel that hired Khaleel through this graduate recruitment programme and it’s hard to believe that was just two years ago, given the amount that he has achieved in that time.

With managers taking a fluid approach to his training, Khaleel has had the opportunity to work in a number of departments to assess where his strengths and ambitions lie. At just 24, his natural leadership skills have already shone through.

His first project saw him lead a team in carbon fibre wrapping concrete beams within our technically advanced mixing plant. He was responsible not only for managing his team safely and effectively, but also for managing a budget of £200,000. This considerable task was completed under budget and well within the expected timescale.

Next, in the packaging department, an increase in production had led to a bottleneck of around 150-200 pallets of manufactured product – with a combined value of £280,000 – which had not yet been made ready for sale. Khaleel and the team had this backlog cleared in under three months.

Khaleel then spent four months on shifts in the lamination department where he was interim production unit leader during the restructure of three teams. Khaleel proved that, as well as being logical and practical, he is also great with people and well liked across the business; a natural Veka leader.

These experiences led Khaleel to his current role as graduate trainee in operations management. He’s proven himself to be capable, intelligent and efficient in a way that makes him a pleasure to work with and a huge asset to the business, displaying Veka values at all times.

These busy two years in his career have also been a busy two years for Khaleel outside work. He got married, and is now father to a young baby, as well as being an A-level tutor and keen charity fundraiser. The importance of a work/life balance was something that Khaleel cited as the reason he left his previous graduate role in another industry, which was more focused on sales and targets, leaving very little room for personal or professional development.

Supporting employees outside of working hours is something that we take very seriously. We often describe our customers as being in safe hands, and this goes for our team too. Veka UK Group offers too many employee benefits to list, from wedding gifts to health advice, and everything in between. We like to lead by example, investing in plant, people and products even during a flat market and, as a group, we are committed to UK manufacturing, innovation, and consistent improvement.

This ethos is exactly what attracts the best in the business to join the company, so we work hard to keep them. And as an award-winning employer with a reputation for low staff turnover, it seems to be working.

We’re yet to find out if Khaleel’s been named a winner at the Burnley Business Awards, but he’s certainly a winner to us.