Judges pore over record entry list as Workplace & Employment Awards finalists are revealed

GETTING TO WORK - the judging panel ahead of adjudication in the Irish News Workplace & Employment Awards, with panel chair Ellvena Graham (NI Chamber of Commerce) pictured at centre. From left are Gary McDonald (Irish News), Damian McGivern (Ulster University), Julie Brown (Mount Charles), Olga Pollock (Phoenix Natural Gas), Orlagh O'Neill (Carson McDowell), Janet Calvert (Public Health Agency), Ryan Feeney (Queen's University) and Sam Davidson (Henderson Group). Photos: Hugh Russell
Gary McDonald Business Editor

IT'S been another stellar and quite spectacular year for the Irish News Workplace & Employment Awards, which has shattered all previous records for entry numbers and quality of applications.

And for the first time in the 12-year history of the north's premier business awards, more than half of the submissions came from organisations which are brand new to the initiative.

The total entries this year was just shy of 180, with 109 different businesses, public sector organisations and schools/colleges throwing their hats into the ring to win a coveted WEA gong on June 14, when more than 600 guests will sit down to a glittering bash in Titanic Belfast.

Significantly, 60 of those organisations have gone through the process for the first time since the awards' launch in 2007, once again raising the bar in what are now acknowledged as the premier awards in Northern Ireland.

And so to the short-list, which was decided yesterday at a session chaired for the first time by Ellvena Graham, president of the NI Chamber of Commerce and one of Northern Ireland's most-well known and respected business figures.

She was joined by Irish News business editor Gary McDonald along with representatives of some of the awards' key business partners.

They included Ryan Feeney (Queen's University), Janet Calvert (Public Health Agency), Orlagh O'Neill (Carson McDowell), Damien McGivern (Ulster University), Sam Davidson (Henderson Group), Olga Pollock (Phoenix Natural Gas) and Julie Brown (Mount Charles).

The nine-strong panel pored over hundreds of pages and eventually agreed on a short list which includes a mix of exceptional blue-chip companies, innovative small firms and impressive public sector and educational bodies.

"Companies demand stand-out, and they are happy to benchmark themselves against their peers," Irish News marketing manager John Brolly said.

"The Workplace & Employment Awards isn't just about numbers, but about the exceptional quality of the entries, and every single winner will have thoroughly earned the right to step up to the podium in four weeks' time," he added.

Full details of all the short-listed companies are laid out on the page opposite, and include plcs like First Derivatives, through to banking giants like Ulster and Danske, care homes to councils, past winners from Tyrone, Down and Derry, and a plethora of newbies who've put themselves forward for scrutiny for the first time.

The Irish News Workplace & Employment Awards black-tie dinner in Titanic Belfast on June 14 will be compered by BBC journalist Karen Patterson in company with top comedian Tim McGarry.

The WEA's eight key business partners for 2018 are Ulster University, Phoenix Natural Gas, the Public Health Agency, Mount Charles, Queen's University, Henderson Group, Carson McDowell and Titanic Belfast.

:: For full awards details visit or follow us on twitter @IrishNewsWEA

:: Want to be part of the night? Book your table on +44 (0) 28 90267099.

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