NEXT's employees are key to achieving business objectives. NEXT has established policies for recruitment, training and development of personnel and is committed to achieving excellence in the areas of health, safety, welfare and protection of employees and their working environment.

Equal opportunities and diversity

NEXT is an equal opportunities employer and will continue to ensure it offers career opportunities without discrimination. Full consideration is given to applications for employment from disabled persons, having regard to their particular aptitudes and abilities. The Group has continued the employment wherever possible of any person who becomes disabled during their employment. Opportunities for training, career development and promotion do not operate to the detriment of disabled employees. The following table shows the gender mix of the Group's employees at the end of the financial year:

Directors of NEXT plc7383
Subsidiary directors and other senior managers29152913
Total employees15,44732,11515,92934,138

Training and development

NEXT aims to realise the potential of its employees by supporting their career progression and promotion wherever possible. It makes significant investment in the training and development of staff and in training and education programmes which contribute to the promotion prospects of employees.

Employee communication

NEXT has a policy of providing employees with financial and other information about the business and ensures that the suggestions and views of employees are taken into account. NEXT has an employee forum made up of elected representatives from throughout the business who attend meetings at least twice a year with directors and senior managers. This forum enables and encourages open discussion on key business issues, policies and the working environment.

Employee share ownership

Approximately 11,600 employees held options or awards over 6.4 million shares in NEXT at January 2015, being 4.2% of the total shares in issue. Its employee share ownership trust ("ESOT") purchases shares for issue to employees when their options are exercised. At the year end the ESOT held 5.0 million shares; the Trustee generally does not vote on this holding on any resolution at General Meetings.

Pension provision

NEXT offers pension benefits to participating employees, details of which are set out in the Remuneration Report and in Note 21 to the financial statements. At January 2015, there were 1,093 (2014: 1,169) active members in the Defined Benefit Section of the NEXT Group Pension Plan and 2,853 (2014: 2,775) UK active members of the Defined Contribution Section. In addition, 12,114 employees (2014: 10,134) participate in the Group's Auto Enrolment defined contribution scheme.