SOUTH-west Huntingdon is home to both finalists in the race to award The Hunts Post Huntingdonshire Training and Development Award 2007, which is sponsored by Huntingdonshire Regional College. In a straight contest between the district's only national sporting venue, Huntingdon Racecourse, and one of its most prestigious hotels, the Huntingdon Marriott, the judges have been looking at how training is planned to meet corporate objectives, how it is targeted across the company and how its success and impact are monitored. Also under the spotlight has been how training and development are designed and evaluated, and the use each contender makes of links with local educational establishments. Huntingdon Racecourse, at Brampton, has been hosting sporting events for almost four centuries. Its normal staff cadre of 18 swells to more than 50 for National Hunt race meetings, but it is also expanding as an exhibition, conference and corporate meeting venue when the bloodstock is out of sight. This year, it has added an Investors in People award to its third consecutive accolade as best small racecourse in the Midlands and East Anglia. Full-time employees have weekly briefings to ensure they are kept fully aware of developments, and they are joined by part-time race-day staff in the circulation of written briefings. They have been fully involved in the design and development of new office accommodation at the venue, which is due to open next month. The company prides itself on staff training and development, and includes a variety of employee benefits, including gym membership, free racing at Jockey Club courses, reduced-price healthcare cover and some flexible working arrangements. The 124 employees at the Huntingdon Marriott are known as "associates", giving a clue to how their contribution to the hotel's success is valued. The goal is to deliver each associate 40 hours of training per year, after carrying out a training needs analysis to assess what training is required, which is fed back to the HR department. The training plan is based on individual needs. Training includes a three-day orientation programme for all new starters, statutory training, varied health and safety, including crisis management, training and any other training that is required or asked for within the hotel. "All training is carefully planned, varied and tracked," says the Marriott's HR director Fiona Lowe, who was herself awarded a Marriott training and development award at the annual regional HR conference April. "By delivering training across all associate levels we can grow our own strong Marriott managers of the future. "We also assist our associates, both financially and with other support, to take up outside studies in relation to their work. This helps to improve commitment to the company and to reduce labour turnover for the hotel, which is the lowest it has ever been - 9.4 per cent year to date." The hotel works closely with St Ivo School where Fiona is involved in mentoring and gives career-related talks. "We also work closely on a student development programme with Manchester Metropolitan University's hospitality department to place students on a 12-month programme where they cover various departments during their placement," she said.