Defence and security giant BAE Systems employs more than 100,000 people worldwide and has sales in excess of pound;22 billion in 2009. Education and training is vital to its high-tech engineering business and it runs highly competitive programmes both for school leavers and graduates. It has 1,000 apprentices at any one time and recruits 300 a year.
It costs the company around pound;80,000 for each three-and-a-half year apprenticeship, but this is worth every penny, says Richard Hamer, BAE's director of education.
"We have compared our apprentices with those who have learned their trade elsewhere and we see them as more productive and they also tend to be promoted more regularly," he says.
More than 90 per cent of apprentices who complete their training stay with the company, so the perennial fear of employers, that they pay for training only to see their investment walk out the door as soon as they are qualified, is not an issue.
Like many large employers, BAE prefers to design and deliver its own training programmes and it is inspected by Ofsted. It does work with further education colleges but, in part due the sensitivities of working in the defence industry, it keeps everything pretty much in-house.
"Some of our models mean we work with local colleges, but there is an awful lot of content and learning that you can only do on the job," explains Mr Hamer. "It is about the whole person. We get people to understand our culture. Apprentices understand that it's potentially a life and death situation for those using our equipment. They get more out of the total picture, and part of our commitment to them is getting them to see this right from day one."
The company's commitment extends to building links with schools, including providing employees to act as ambassadors for science, technology, engineering and maths subjects.
Quality is rigorously maintained. Standards are overseen by an apprenticeship governing board, with trade union representation, and programmes operate to a quality framework. The company also operates its own Ofsted-style inspections of provision informed by an annual apprenticeship survey. And it runs local apprenticeship fora that elect representatives to a National Apprenticeship Forum, which allows trainees to discuss issues and problems relating to their education.
Training is provided by supervisors who are paid more for the duties they undertake over and above their day jobs.
"A learning culture exists throughout the company: to learn the trade you have to do the job and to teach you have to understand the job," says Mr Hamer. "Part of the culture is that staff see training as part of their responsibilities."