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Just making a bid can bring many benefits to team

When mental health service officials take advice from the local college on getting the balance of work and life demands right for their employees, you have to take a closer look at what it is going on. For Pembrokeshire college, it guaranteed a visit from the Association of CollegesTES Beacon judges - at the end of which they were clear winners of the Staff Development Award.

Few others among the 11 entries that made the shortlist had the magic ingredient. Oldham came within a whisker. But in the second shortlisting, to determine which projects the judges visit, the lack of such evidence in the written submission can kill a college's chances.

But why do so many worthy colleges not make a submission in the first place? The judges and Beacon Award advisory group must constantly review procedures. However many apply, the question must be asked repeatedly: how do we attract more?

I approached principals and senior managers in five colleges I reckoned could have won an award hands down. Why didn't they bid? "Lack of time to prepare," said one. "I have seven senior managers who do not teach."

Another said: "We got fed up with bidding and coming nowhere." And yet another said: "Awards bring cash, kudos and commitment - but that's another commitment we cannot afford to make." Another said: "People don't bid for things like that in our area."

Yet hundreds do apply - often for multiple awards. And so often winners will say that their bids took surprisingly little time to draft. It suggests that most likely winners have thought through the implications so thoroughly that the bid is easy to distil.

But not always. As one principal said: "Putting our collective thoughts to a bid made us realise we were not yet a winner."

But even if you decide not to make a bid, why not use AoC Beacon as a management tool? That is what Pembrokeshire college did. Three years in the making and backed by a mass of qualitative and quantitative data, the college had broken new ground. An Investors in People survey showed that 80 per cent of staff placed a high value on their development and training.

Awards and praise came flooding in from the inspectors, University of Wales and a mental health forum. The judges concluded: "This has produced a committed, enthusiastic well-qualified and motivated staff hungry for further improvements and development, collectively and corporately."

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