Youth unemployment is a huge issue in the UK, with nearly one million young people affected. It affects us too, because these young people are all potential M&S customers or employees.
Our CEO Marc Bolland is worried that a whole generation may grow up disengaged from the world and society. The phenomenal support amongst colleagues for Make Your Mark - the four-week employability programme for young people we launched in 2013 - shows that his concern is shared throughout M&S.
So far, 1450 young people have started Make Your Mark, with over 80% of those who completed going into work. Impressive statistics, but what really excites me about this programme is its evolution, momentum and galvanizing impact on our business. It demonstrates all that’s good about Plan A.
It addresses a current issue but its roots reach back to 2004, three years before Plan A, when our customers’ concern inspired us to launched Marks & Start to help young people, single parents, people with disabilities, and those who were homeless to find and gain employability training. Marks & Start has been a ‘slow burning success story’ - it currently provides around 2,000 placements in 300 stores each year - but I want to highlight the crucial lessons it provided for Make Your Mark.
Thanks to Marks & Start, we already understood the need for senior management and shop-floor buy-in, ‘start to finish’ support and accreditation for candidates, and a great partner - in this case, The Prince’s Trust, already involved in Marks & Start for the past nine years. So when Marc Bolland challenged us to offer work experience to the equivalent of 2% of our total workforce, in many ways we were well prepared. But in sheer scale this was a major step forward - 1450 candidates in 100 stores in just one year. We had no real idea how busy colleagues would greet the participants, or how engaging the young people would find the programme. A real concern of ours was ensuring that each young person received the right outcome for them after they finished their placement, be it in employment or something else. The Prince’s Trust were brilliant at helping with this, due to the 6 months post-placement support offered to each young person.
Thankfully, something we’ve experienced a few times through Plan A happened - a ‘spark’ or ‘lift off’. Colleagues in stores welcomed these local young people with huge enthusiasm and the candidates reciprocated. Every store wanted to be involved. Our colleagues relished their role as ‘buddies’ and you simply can’t argue with an ‘into-work’ rate of 80%, of which most jobs were at M&S.
No wonder other businesses took notice when Marc Bolland shared our story. And no surprise that Make Your Mark has in a sense ‘gone viral’, inspiring 15 major UK employers to create Movement to Work - committing to offer 100,000 work opportunities for young people by 2020 and utilising the ‘accelerator’ effect to encourage businesses in their supply chains to get involved too. Already, over 100 of our food suppliers are participating.
As a way to reach new talent, build a more diverse workforce and develop and inspire colleagues, Make Your Mark works for M&S. It’s also teaching us new lessons. For example, that celebrating candidates’ success helps engage more people and potential partners, and that our accreditation could become industry standard.
Most importantly, this success story highlights continuity, momentum and partnership. Marks & Start set us on the right course, Make Your Mark added scale and built momentum. Now Movement to Work, an industry-wide initiative, sets us on course to help more and more young people find gainful employment.