Emily Packham, training officer at architect HOK, tells Eleanor Cochrane how employees can go to university without leaving their desks
What is HOKU?
It stands for HOK University, our global training initiative. It's a system of continuous professional development for everyone in our office network – more than 2000 people in 24 locations. Each office has an HOKU rep who's responsible for managing training and for providing advice on local opportunities.

How long has it been running?
HOKU was established in 1995. Our former chairman, Jerry Sincoff, was the driving force behind it. He was inspired by the university set up and run by the Ford Motor Company.

But isn't it just a glorified training programme?
Like the Open University, HOKU is not just about formal classroom training. It provides a selection of different learning techniques that people can access at any time that suits them. Site visits, project review sessions, reading professional journals or helping to develop best practice procedures are good examples.

All HOK employees can access 38 online courses, ranging from IT to professional skills. Training laptops and CD versions of the online training packages are available for people to use from home. A programme of in-house seminars allows people to keep abreast of the latest products, technologies and legal developments.

Training is placed higher than salary as a factor in attracting recruits. Our in-house university takes this concern on board

What about "real" degree courses?
HOKU also provides support for employees wishing to undertake further professional qualifications relevant to their role. This includes sponsoring individuals to study for masters degrees and other postgraduate qualifications in specialist subjects, such as conservation and construction law.

How are targets set and rewarded?
This year, HOK has set a firm-wide goal of 40 hours of professional development activity for every employee. The London office has committed to fund 40 hours for each member of staff and a global professional development database is used to record all activities. People can obtain a report of their progress at any time, and any employee who achieves 30 hours or more is recognised and rewarded.

How interested are the employees in their training?
As awareness of its importance has grown, people are actively seeking opportunities to develop their skills. The recent Building/Hays Montrose careers survey showed that almost three-quarters of respondents said training concerned them a lot, which put it above salaries as a factor in attracting new recruits. We have taken this concern on board by establishing HOKU.