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Marks & Spencer - Finalist for the Unipart Award for Outstanding Employment

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Finalist for the Unipart Award for Outstanding Employment

Continuing a long-term commitment to tackling youth unemployment, Marks & Spencer (M&S) sees plenty of business value in plucking the very best talent from the pool of unemployed in the communities in which it serves, and this is why the retailer has scrapped the interview process to make it easier for the unemployed to come work for them.

Impacts

  • More than 3,000 people join the Make Your Mark programme each year
  • 85 per cent of participants complete the placement
  • More than 50 per cent go into work immediately after their placement, or within 12 weeks of finishing

With the globalisation of economies, jobs become ever more mobile, competition intensifies and skills evolve more rapidly. Being unemployed is more daunting than ever.

So, what does a retail business like Marks & Spencer (M&S) – a company that employs 81,000 people and welcomes some 21 million customers through its doors and on its website every week – do to respond to such a big challenge? Well, through two specific programmes it is working hard to bring an often overlooked segment of society into its business. And for good reason.

It’s flagship employability programme – known as Marks & Start – was set up back in 2004. Its premise is simple and based on a robust business case: Accessing incredible talent, diversifying its employee base, and engaging and developing its own people is good for company performance. Securing the best young talent with adaptable skills and capabilities will ensure the business continues to thrive in the long-term.

Giving someone a job is even more life-changing. They have a reignited dignity, and a purpose in life.

M&S is making its mark

Meanwhile, Make Your Mark initiative, run in partnership with The Prince’s Trust, helps unemployed young people develop the skills and confidence needed to find work through a four-week training and work placement programme.

The two programmes change lives, according to the business, taking someone from being unconfident, low on self-esteem, lacking in experience, unable to look you in the eye, to totally transformed individuals, confident enough to approach customers and offer the sort of levels of customer service M&S is looking for – all in the space of two weeks. “Giving someone a job is even more life-changing. They have a reignited dignity, and a purpose in life, to earn money, provide for their families and contribute to society,” it says.

Each year, more than 3,000 people start the programme, receiving preparatory training from the charities involved, including Gingerbread and Remploy – from three days to 12 weeks. This might involve confidence and self-esteem boosting or training on finances – essentially, making sure they are the right fit for both the retail sector and for M&S.

Of the 3,000 that start the programme, the majority (85 per cent) complete the placement. And of those, more than 50 per cent go into work immediately after their placement, or within 12 weeks of finishing. Most of those jobs are with M&S and if not, the business helps people grab work elsewhere.

Interestingly, at the end of the placements, there is no interview or assessment process; if somebody has done well during their placement, and an M&S line manager can sign them off as ‘suitable to employ’, they go straight into a job with the company. Removing the barrier of an interview is a hugely important part of the programme, as often someone will excel on the placement, really impress the customers and managers, and yet they will fail an interview, according to M&S.

Learning from the programme's succes

Elsewhere, the business has spent the last 12 years making significant changes to its recruitment process to ensure it is accessible to people from excluded groups who would get screened out of a

Running these programmes ensures we future-proof ourselves by supplying the needs that an evolving and fast-moving business will have.

‘normal’ recruitment process. For example, there is a special process for allowing people with unspent criminal convictions onto the programme. Working with its charity partners, it has created a risk assessment form to determine the potential risks of a placement to the individual, the company and its customers. It is a process that has enabled 75 ex-offenders to go on the programme each year – many of whom go on to work for M&S.

“Offering jobs is one of the simplest but most life-changing ways we can support excluded groups, so we also aim to encourage other companies to do the same, so together we will see thousands getting work and thereby preventing a future UK talent deficit,” says M&S CEO Steve Rowe. “Running these programmes ensures we future-proof ourselves by supplying the needs that an evolving and fast-moving business will have.

“We’re committed and passionate about helping local communities, and making a difference to the people who live in them. And we pride ourselves on this forward-thinking programme helping those with significant barriers in their first steps to gaining meaningful employment.”