It’s not the winning…

The National Training Awards have been given a new lease of life.  Elaine Essery finds out why taking part is
still worth the effort

The awards merry-go-round is at full pelt. Just as the euphoria of the 2001
National Training Awards (NTAs) has died down, so the entry machine is gearing
up again with only two months until the 2002 entries have to be submitted. So
is all the hard work that goes into entering for a training award worth it?

‘Yes’ is the unanimous response from the recently-announced winners of the
2001 NTAs. Gaining accolades brings a number of benefits: raised profile,
heightened employee motivation, a boost for recruitment, validation of training
practices, enhanced status for the training department, and the impetus to
drive standards up even higher. But win or not, it is the good old British
spirit of taking part that is important, according to the entrants.

Jaguar Cars submitted three entries for an NTA. Two narrowly missed the
final and one came up trumps. Education and training manager at the carmaker’s
Halewood plant Phil Round says "We’re proud of winning, but we didn’t
enter to win, we entered to benchmark ourselves against what training is being
done out there. We may be a very big, prestige motor manufacturer with a brand
name, but the important thing is to show we can subject ourselves to the
rigours of evaluation like everybody else."

The feedback the company received has helped it make improvements for the
future. "We know where we are and how we can improve. We already have one
project that we’re probably going to submit for 2002. It’s all about
benchmarking. If you’re going to become best in class you’ve got to know what
the opposition is up to and when you’re best in class you’ve got to stay there
because the opposition is going to want to catch up."

Benchmarking is a key benefit for TNT Express Services, an NTA winner in
2000 and 2001. Group training and development manager Ruth James believes TNT’s
training is in a league of its own within the transport sector and is keen to
benchmark performance against other industries. "NTAs assess you outside
your sector and to win one is a big accolade," she says.

Ian Lawson, director of training and development at office supplies company
Lyreco UK, agrees. His company won Training Magazine’s own annual competition –
the TD awards – in 2001 and later that year collected an NTA. "We’d picked
up training awards in our own sector but then to step outside your industry and
do it in a much bigger pool with the TD awards and NTAs gives a lot of satisfaction."

Training awards are something new to TD2001 runners-up, Sheffield City
Council (SCC). It is unusual for local authorities to get involved and often
difficult for them to measure the benefits of training, so making a good
showing against the private sector and big companies was heartening for the
council.

"The achievement validated and supported what we were doing and made us
feel we had a springboard for further development," says head of training,
Barbara Duckworth, who thinks more public bodies should enter. Entering the
competition was also a means of looking at best practice and learning from
others. What has grown out of it is that Lyreco, SCC and fellow runners-up,
high-street bank Abbey National, met to explore ways they can share best
practice. "We’re all joining the Industrial Society’s learning and
development network and use that as a place to exchange ideas," Duckworth
explains.

Success in training awards can enhance the standing of both training
professionals and their departments. Lyreco’s TD2001 win hastened Lawson’s
promotion to director and he feels the process of entering was a valuable
development exercise for his team. For James, winning two NTAs in the four
years she has been in her post has not only validated the commitment of TNT’s
senior management to training and development as a business priority but also
"it has enhanced both my role and that of the whole department. Top
management come to me and ask "what can we do next?"

National Semiconductor (UK) in Greenock put in for an NTA for the first time
in 2001 and hit the jackpot, winning a special award. Training manager Grace
Mitchell says: "It makes it easier when you go to top management and say
‘I want to do something different – something out of the box’, because they know
what you’ve done has been recognised externally. Our achievement has given our
training department lots of exposure throughout the corporation and it’s given
us the impetus to go for more. We’re looking to see if there are any European
awards or other awards we can go for, as we’re keen to keep the focus and
recognition there."

It’s not just the training department that gets a boost. The whole business
and its employees can get a lift too.

"Even before we won, everyone was interested because they knew about the
submission," says Mitchell. "Some of our operators were invited to
the awards presentation at the Glasgow Hilton and it was a bit like the Oscars.
Everyone was biting their nails, hoping we’d win and the whole table erupted
when we did. At the end of the day it’s our people who are key to our success.
They’re getting recognised and they’re constantly asking to take on more
challenges and learn new things. It’s enabling us to leapfrog into other areas
of development with our operators."

Winning awards has boosted motivation among Lyreco’s workforce and raised
the company’s profile. "It was a big news story in our industry where we
want to be seen as market leaders. It’s been great PR in getting the company’s
name into print and getting people familiar with it," says Lawson.

James believes that an NTA can help win potential customers too. Sales
colleagues putting together tenders for business often ask her for details of
awards. "Potential customers want to know as it helps them select a
carrier. They know that if we’re giving excellent training they’re much more
likely to get the goods delivered safely and on time. It shows the importance
of training to the whole operation."

NTA winners recognise the value that displaying the logo has. "The logo
on our letterhead is very powerful and we’ll add it to recruitment ads to help
attract good people," says Mitchell. "It speaks volumes that the
company is committed to investing in its people. It’s validation of IiP that we
achieved in March 2001 but, while IiP is a standard you can be accredited
against, an NTA is something you have to win."

James agrees the NTA logo makes a difference in terms of recruitment.
"People are much more likely to want to work for a company they can see
invests in training and it makes people feel more valued."

Shining once more

Despite the obvious passion and
enthusiasm of those involved in NTAs, research carried out two years ago
indicated that they had lost some of their shine. In April 2001 UK Skills took
over the management of the awards after they had been run by the DfEE for 13
years. Already the NTA profile appears to have risen.

"Because the core business of UK Skills is about
celebrating excellence and the promotion of learning, training and development,
NTAs fit with what we do. We have a lot of insight into the issues facing
organisations that are trying to increase their human capital," says chief
executive Linda Ammon.

"Our first job is to get the sparkle back into the awards
and we’ve got a lot of new ideas." They include making better use of IT to
run virtual workshops on the web to make NTAs accessible to all and boost the
number of quality entries. "We run face-to-face workshops now, but I don’t
want anyone not to be able to get involved because a workshop is at the wrong
time or they can’t afford to travel to it," says Ammon.

Another of her plans is to make more of case studies to build
up a readily accessible knowledge bank for individuals and organisations. UK
Skills has already put in place two developments to enhance its capacity to
encourage and support entrants. It has set up a mentoring system to give
one-to-one help to those wanting to prepare an entry and a champions network to
help promote the competition (see page 12).

Ammon’s goal is to raise the number of entries from 800 in 2001
to 1,000 in 2002. But it’s not just a numbers game – she wants to see high
quality too. "The key thing is that NTAs are about the direct link between
training and personal or business success. It’s not about winning an award
because you’ve done something nice – there’s a real bottom-line benefit. The
awards are about broadcasting the message that training pays."

Winners share wisdom

What better way of promoting NTAs than through people who have been there,
done it and believe in the agenda? Marilyn Radford, training and competence
manager at Co-operative Bank Financial Advisers, is a champion. Like other
champions, Radford was responsible for submitting her organisation’s successful
NTA 2001 entry and now she wants to give something back.

"I personally benefited so much from putting an entry in
and so did the organisation that I’d like to help spread the message," she
says. "I went to a workshop, which was excellent, then they gave me a
mentor to contact when I was actually writing the submission and he was great.
We talked through whether it was a viable proposition in the first place then
he guided me on my draft and helped me shape it into the format required.

"I do think it’s a good discipline and an excellent
structure you have to work to for the submission and I now use it for other
training programmes."

Radford is attending workshops to pass on her experience as an
NTA winner. She is keen to raise the profile of the awards – particularly
within her own sector. "Huge amounts of money are spent on training in the
sector but the Co-operative Bank was the only financial services organisation
to win an award. I would urge others to look into the NTAs and get external
recognition for something they know has worked for them. It’s certainly helped
our profile."

Nacro’s Paul Champion is living up to his name when it comes to
backing NTAs. An individual regional and special award winner in 2000 and
regional judge in 2001, Champion is something of an evangelist. He spreads the
word through training provider networks, giving press interviews and speaking
to those considering entering, explaining what NTAs are about and what they
mean.

From his role of delivering sports and recreation training to
young offenders, Champion raised his profile so much that he was promoted to
area manager for all Nacro projects in Tyne and Wear, doubling his salary in
the process.

"Winning an award changed my life. It’s given me a pivotal
role by putting me in a position where I sit on local management committees of
bodies like the LSC and Connexions where I can debate what change is needed
with those who can make it. It’s also helped raise the cause of the young
people we deliver training to and had an effect on the organisation."

The closing date for the National Training Awards 2002 is 17
May. For more information visit www.nationaltrainingawards.com
Details of Training Magazine’s TD2002 Awards will be unveiled soon.

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