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West Suffolk College could teach many firms a lot about being a good employer. In the past year, the Bury St Edmunds-based institution has been awarded the government's Beacon status for its impressive teaching and management. A recent inspection by the Adult Learning Inspectorate marked it "outstanding" for every aspect of training — and only 18 institutions in the country gained this top score. Now, staff have voted the college one of the country's best workplaces too.
The rural further education college provides training courses for 21,000 students from age 14 to adult learners, and has six other centres in the market towns of west Suffolk.
Dr Ann Williams has been principal for the past four years, and at the college for 25. Staff feel she and other senior managers really live the values of the place (77%). These are set out as ambitions to respect, support, value, praise and have pride in everyone in the institution. Although there are 449 staff, typically lecturers, Williams stays in touch with a full staff meeting twice a year and an electronic suggestions box for comments. Weekly briefings share important information and staff say that their managers talk to them openly and honestly (75%).
Employees have been here for an average of seven years, and holiday for business support staff increases by five days after five years. For non-management staff, holiday varies from 24 to 52 days a year — with the maximum for lecturers who have government teaching contracts. There is a final-salary pension, still open to all, laptops are provided for lecturers and managers, and there are subsidised hot and cold meals available.
The college listens to its people. Awards schemes have been considered and rejected because employees would rather be recognised in other ways. There is a celebratory lunch annually, which includes the restaurant staff, and team efforts are rewarded with a champagne toast or lunch out.
Staff feel a good team spirit at work, giving their colleagues positive scores of 78% for helping them out and 81% for inspiring them with confidence in their abilities, both top 50 scores on these measures.
In-house training goes on throughout the year and employees say it is of great benefit to them (74%) and that they grow personally (77%). Everyone feels like they make a valuable contribution to the college's success (78%) and work is an important part of their lives (75%).
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