The foresight of two men led to the creation of a company which is leading the way in training.

Shipley-based Virtual College was born when Rod Knox, who was the director of Bradford-based electronics company Chase Advanced Technologies, and Dr Bob Gomersal, former head of physics at Bradford Grammar School, bumped into each other.

The pair instantly hit it off and seeing the need for a new way to deliver training decided to launch the firm.

Today, Virtual College is a pioneering force helping to deliver training packages through the use of technology.

Founded in 1996, the firm began life helping to train others, initially in NVQ electronics, from a unit behind Bradford University.

Expansion forced the firm to move to its current site in Shipley in April 2000, where it has continued to grow and develop.

Now the compay, which is based on Ashley Lane, employs 18 people and has branched out to work for key players such as Bradford Council, the Learning and Skills Council, Bradford Chamber of Commerce and seven NHS authorities.

It allows people to learn through a flexible and fun approach and lets people train at home, at work or at college.

Using a variety of tools, including multi-media training, on-line assessment, tutor support and e-learning modules, Virtual College now offers training in a host of areas.

Rod Knox said: "We have a vision to help other companies move forward. We've seen thousands of people pass through our doors, gaining qualifications in all manner of areas. We've even got people learning from us as far a field as America and China."

Virtual College also produces material for the Government's Learndirect initiative, and has a customer base which includes large and small, local and national companies.

Clients the firm has worked for include Filtronic, Panasonic, Nortel and regeneration agency Yorkshire Forward.

Still delivering NVQ electronics learning to companies across the UK, Virtual College has boomed as companies are increasingly seeing the benefits of using technology for cost-effective delivery of their induction and training packages.

Rod explained: "The whole focus of the business is to enhance traditional training through technology, either for individuals or organisations, blending solutions based on traditional teaching with e-learning.

"We are keen to help other companies and help people develop solutions for their own training packages."

Virtual College now offers 25 different course options and, according to Rod, can tailor packages to suit any requirements.

He added: "Lots of other firms like ours develop boxed solutions which they then sell. We customise training to suit the individual client's needs."

Virtual College has even branched out into other areas of e-learning with generic soft skills training such as effective management, health and safety.

A large part of Virtual College's business now comes from bespoke training for the likes of jet engine manufacturer General Electric Aircraft Engine Services in Wales and Princes in Bradford.

It has also been working on an initiative to deliver world class manufacturing solutions to Yorkshire companies via an e-learning portal which is called Yorkshire Productivity.

The scheme, which is the sole brainchild of Virtual College, aims to bring on board as many companies as possible to share best practice through its website

Rod said: "Yorkshire Productivity aims to promote and improve the productivity of manufacturing and service companies in the Yorkshire regions. We want to create a forum where subscriber companies can share and explore productivity tools and techniques, gain valuable insight into how other companies have implemented these tools and get cost-effective training to help them implement or maintain their own productivity drives."

No stranger to praise, a few years ago the company was even singled out in a major Government consultation paper. The Green Paper, which was issued by the Department of Education and Employment, looked at ways of encouraging life-long learning. It praised the company's innovative training methods.

The firm has also been put in the spotlight with a visit from then education minister George Mudie in 1998. He visited the business to see how state-of-the-art technology was being used to develop flexible learning.

His visit followed hot on the heels of a fact-finding tour by Lord Sainsbury, who was at that time the Government-appointed chairman of the University for Industry board.

With success, the firm's finances have also grown - the company's first year turnover was £195,000, last year it had soared to £573,000.

Three years ago Virtual College gained approval to become a supplier for the University for Industry. Ufi aims to take forward the Government's vision of a putting individuals in a better position to get jobs, improve their career prospects and boost business competitiveness.

Working as a public-private partnership in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Ufi's learning services are being delivered through Learndirect, which provides access to innovative and high quality courses, more than 80 per cent of which are on-line.

In January 2001 the firm became an approved assessment centre for EMTA, which is the national training organisation for engineering manufacture, and City & Guilds.

Virtual College has also recently become an approved European Computer Driving Licence centre, meaning candidates can gain a 'computer driving licence' from it.

In February it also won a contract with the West Yorkshire Police to provide a training management system. Just a month later it established a partnership with a further six NHS Trusts to support the creation of an on-line information governance system.

The firm now works in partnership with a variety of educational institutions including The University of Liverpool, Sheffield Hallam University, Keighley College and Huddersfield Technical College.

Rod added: "E-learning is really starting to take off as it works at a pace, place and time to suit everybody. There is huge potential in the industry.

"We are thinking about looking at bigger premises but the beauty of e-learning is that you don't have to have all your team in one place at the same time, so we can also think of other options and keep flexible.

"We're successful because of the relationship we develop with our customers. We hand hold them through the process. Lots of other firms offer training solutions, but we take people right the way through the learning curve - we close the training loop and don't just train people but actually stay with them to see how they've progressed."