Winner: Sandwell Healthcare trust

Project: Sandwell Healthcare Cadetship

Contact: Training and development programmes manager Carol Broadhead, tel: 0121-607 3597 Brings young people from Sandwell into health service careers.

Working through National Vocational Qualifications and professional qualifications, cadets come back to Sandwell after five years as fully trained professionals. The scheme started in 1997, preparing young people for careers in nursing and midwifery. Participants are now entering professions allied to medicine and support roles such as physiotherapy, chiropody, laboratory work and estate management.

There are plans to extend the scheme further next year.

Management

A business plan was completed and a team of project nurses and managers from the trust and Wolverhampton University was pulled together to implement, manage and evaluate the scheme.

A manager from the training and development department directly manages the scheme and reports to this project team. Dedicated assessors support the cadets. Birmingham University is doing the formal evaluation.

Innovations and successes

The cadets start with an NVQ in customer care and then learn the health service 'inside out', through placements in everything from primary care to catering. In 1997, the trust persuaded Wolverhampton University to accept NVQ level 3 as an entry level qualification. The same has been done with other local universities. However, cadets can also step on and off the scheme, using the NVQs they have completed to gain jobs at the trust.

The first cohort will return to Sandwell in 2002 as qualified nurses.

Of the original 20 trainees in this cohort, 15 are in their fourth year of the scheme: one entered nurse training early, others have chosen to become healthcare assistants but may enter professional training later.

The cadets are achieving high academic grades, and ward managers report they are well ahead of other students in clinical practice.

The judges said: At the cutting edge of HR reform. The panel was impressed by the way the trust, far from being content with its initial success, has expanded and developed the scheme. It has been extensively copied but is unquestionably the leader in its field. The judges congratulate all involved and encourage them to continue to develop this skills escalator pathfinder.

Runner-up: Bradford health authority

Project: Engaging your future workforce

Contact: Jan Lee, tel: 01274-366180

The project started with collaborations between the health authority's communications managers and Jan Lee, assistant headteacher at Belle Vue Girls' School, whose population is 98 per cent Asian Muslim. This activity attracted beacon status. Ms Lee is seconded to manage the beacon dissemination plan and develop initiatives with other schools.

Management

Ms Lee reports to the health authority's assistant director of performance management. An annual report is prepared for regional office that measures expenditure and progress against specific targets.

Innovations and successes

The project offers a 'full on' experience of the NHS. Initiatives include training staff as mentors to pupils - 17 staff and 19 students have been involved in three years - and encouraging them to become school governors - five are serving and nine are being trained.

Another initiative is NHS Mastermind, which gives 200 young people the opportunity to quiz health professionals about their jobs and why they do them.

'Preparation projects' are 12week, clinical placements for post-16 year olds who work alongside a 'professional buddy' in a variety of jobs. Bradford University school of health guarantees interviews to successful participants. In each of the past two years, more than 30 young people have entered the school, many from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The judges said: This is a highly impressive, whole-systems approach to solving a range of pressures within a deprived health economy. The project is bustling with energy, full of innovation and highly sensitised to the needs and views of the local community. It is a long-term approach, but short-term benefits are already beginning to emerge.

Runner-up: King's College Hospital trust Project: KingsFlex scheme - flexible working options Contact: Marion Lorman, tel: 020-7346 6481 The KingsFlex scheme provides flexible working arrangements tailored to suit the individuals and the trust. Flexible working options include part-time working, temporarily reduced hours, job sharing, annual hours contracts, working from home, career breaks and personalised annual leave arrangements.

ManagementA booklet has been developed setting out the principles. Staff are encouraged to discuss their requirements with their managers. A 'say yes' culture is encouraged, though the first and foremost aim is always to meet service needs and financial accountabilities.

Innovations and successes The scheme was introduced in October 1999 when the trust was facing recruitment difficulties, absenteeism and loss of skilled staff, particularly in nursing and midwifery. From October 1999 to October 2000, turnover fell by 1.5 per cent to 15.5 per cent, while vacancy rates were reduced by 5 per cent overall. The trust's establishment increased by 1.2 per cent overall and 7.8 per cent for nurses and midwives. Individual feedback indicates that some of these staff would not have been able to take up or remain in post without flexible working options.

The KingsFlex scheme has won a number of awards - including Employer of the Year from Parents at Work, Lloyds TSB and the Department of Education and Employment.

The judges said: An extremely well-integrated approach to recruitment and retention that brings together national policy direction, local service needs and individual staff views. It is supported by an impressive range of complementary initiatives and there is clear evidence of measurable success.