ROD KNOX has a passion for training. He has worked in three companies, all of which have grown rapidly. The latest is the Virtual College where he is managing director.
Knox believes that the workforce is a business's most important resource. For him, training unlocks its potential to the mutual benefit of worker and business. He is apt to use the phrase "world-class manufacturing" and it is easy to see why he thinks such a standard is achievable.
He is quality director at Chase Advanced Technologies, from where he joined the Virtual College, but now works there just one day a week. Visitors to Chase in Bradford's Eurocam Technology Park cannot avoid the training centre that greets them on arrival. Its message is clear: this company is committed to quality and improvement.
"We made a pledge some years ago that at every moment of the working day, there would always be someone involved in training," says Knox, now managing director of the Virtual College, a commitment that has paid off as Chase has doubled in size from 70 to 150 workers.
"Our quality performance has increased by 30 per cent, lead times have been reduced from weeks to days and our delivery is excellent," he says.
The most satisfying thing for Knox is the creation of jobs. "We saw a new enthusiasm among the staff. There ws a new level of involvement for them in the company and we had a more flexible, highly skilled workforce."
One piece of equipment that Chase developed has been crucial in helping technophobic workers come to terms with training. The Training Station is a portable, touch-screen multimedia unit that is cheap and easy for staff to use.
When Lord Dearing, chairman of the University for Industry and veteran of school curriculum reviews, visited the Virtual College recently, he tried the Training Station. "It's so simple to use, even an old sod like me can make it work," he said.
But the real step forward was in getting workers to grasp that training was in their own interests. For each new qualification, workers receive a pay rise and now 70 of Chase's workforce have NVQs (National Vocational Qualifications), while the company is a regional finalist in the National Training Awards.
But it wasn't easy to convince companies to invest in such training, as John Winkley, the college's business development manager, explains: "Firms were put off by the bureaucracy surrounding such qualifications - the insistence on health and safety knowledge at every step, for instance. But we managed to design the courses to teach the skills firms wanted and then go back and pick up the NVQ necessities."