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M&S’ early careers talent hamper

The retailer’s Head of Talent and Early Careers sheds light on M&S’ Early Careers Programmes, with a look at how this helps the business get the talent that it needs…

Words by Sophie Parrott

M&S’ early careers talent hamper

The retailer’s Head of Talent and Early Careers sheds light on M&S’ Early Careers Programmes, with a look at how this helps the business get the talent that it needs…

Words by Sophie Parrott

Words by Sophie Parrott

For young jobseekers, having the opportunity to join a well-known brand – whether this is on a graduate programme, internship, or going straight into a full-time job – often gives them the chance to enhance and grow their current skillset. The benefits work both ways though as offering several routes into work for early careers talent can have multiple benefits for employers and the HR agenda too. In fact, a Handshake blog post – the firm is an early career network and career management platform – explained that students and recent graduates who are kickstarting their careers may be “[more] amenable, as opposed to older talent, who might be set in their ways”. With employers also experiencing challenges with getting talent right now – Statista data found that circa 30.9% of those aged between 16 and 17-years-old were unemployed in September 2021 – finding ways to attract and recruit people from this talent pool could enable firms to grow and develop talent needed for the future.

Right here, with one of the UK’s best-loved, digitally evolving retailers, is where young people can launch their dream future

Basket full of talent

One employer that appears to be acknowledging the business benefits that this cohort can bring – and who has focused on bringing early talent into the business “with opportunities to stretch and develop into leaders of the future” for years – is Marks and Spencer (M&S). The multinational retailer – instantly recognised for its popular ‘Percy Pig’ sweets and premium food offering – has circa 70,000 colleagues, and a head office in Paddington, London. With over 1,000 stores in the UK to serve, having the right skills and talent to look after a large customer base continues to be key, particularly with busy periods such as Christmas looming.

A key way that M&S is able to keep this talent coming through its doors is via its Early Careers Programmes. This is comprised of Graduate Programmes, School Leavers, Industrial Placements and Internships and seeks to enable the firm to grow its own talent organically. In an exclusive interview with myGrapevine magazine, Jess Jones, Head of Talent and Early Careers at M&S, sheds light on the retailer’s Early Careers Programmes, and how this can help the business secure the talent needed for the future.

Talking about the scheme, she said: “Our Early Careers Programmes are a little different. They’re intentionally designed to give colleagues the technical skills, commercial intelligence, and real business experience required to stand out in the field. Right here, with one of the UK’s best-loved, digitally evolving retailers, is where young people can launch their dream future.”

Jess Jones,

Head of Talent and Early Careers

What other programmes are on offer?

Aside from the other programmes on offer, Jones explained that the retailer is proud to support the Government’s Kickstart Scheme.

This, according to the Government’s website, provides funding to employers to create new jobs for 16 to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit who are at risk of long-term unemployment.

“Last month saw the 107 colleagues on our first cohort finish their placements with us, having completed rotations through every aspect of our stores with bespoke training from both M&S and The Prince’s Trust.

“We were really pleased that 90 of these colleagues were able to stay at M&S beyond the completion of the programme in a mixture of permanent and fixed-term roles,” Jones added.

Sourcing quality recruits

The retailer has this overarching programme in place to help bring “diverse, early talent into the business” – something which continues to be a top agenda item for HR as employers grapple with skills and talent shortages. Within M&S’ Early Careers Programmes, there are a variety of opportunities for budding talent to get involved with, including the Graduate Programmes which range from retail management to food technology and software engineering. The retailer’s Early Careers lead said: “Our training and development programme provides the technical know-how, whilst building leadership credentials. Supported by innovative and stretching projects, colleagues experience a masterclass in technical training, structured mentoring and regular feedback. At the same time, they’ll also get the responsibility to make their mark on us – from food, fashion or digital to commercial innovation or store management.”

Also on offer are Industrial Placements which are for students with enthusiasm for working in the world of retail, according to Jones. “They provide the chance to experience a live role, whilst discovering where their talents lie. And they’re an opportunity to make the most of their year in industry,” Jones explained.

Aside from this, the retailer also has internship opportunities. Speaking on this particular programme, Jones said: “Our internship opportunities are an opportunity to discover the inner workings of a high-profile, international innovator like M&S. It’s a chance for students to get the edge over the competition before they’ve even left university. We believe it’s never too soon to think about the legacy you want to create with your career – an internship is a great opportunity to find some inspiration and show how ambitious and exceptional you can be. Our structured internship programmes provide an opportunity to work with experts in their field, providing real life insight into life and a career at M&S – topped off with great training and mentoring to make an internship with us the best it can be.”

Thought is also given to those who have recently left school too. In fact, Jones explained that the journey for school-leavers starts “the minute they step through our doors”. She added: “Whether exploring our stores or learning from the talented people across our wide and wonderful business, our new recruits get to show us what they’ve got and discover the kind of legacy they want to build.”

There are several avenues for early talent to kickstart their careers at M&S and, as Jones laid out, this can result in several benefits for the business.

Our training and development programme provides the technical know-how, whilst building leadership credentials

Building future leaders

With many employers now facing challenges within the talent management life cycle – whether this is struggling to find the right skills or recruits for the future, or challenges keeping hold of top talent – turning to this younger cohort could help employers grow the needed talent for the future whilst also creating sustainable recruitment pipelines. Jones explained: “Our early careers programmes allow us to grow our own talent, which is especially important in growing areas such as digital, data and tech. By recruiting on core skills and abilities, we can provide an enhanced learning and development programme to allow each person to grow.”

With many employers currently struggling to hire the right talent – data from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), reported on by the Independent, found that more than two-thirds of UK companies trying to hire new talent are struggling to find recruits – M&S’ approach could help bring in new talent, whilst also providing the support needed to aid development. “We have run early careers programmes for many years, with a focus on bringing diverse early talent into the business with opportunities to stretch and develop into leaders of the future,” Jones added.

A fresh perspective

Aside from providing the business with a good pipeline of talent for the future, young people can bring in a new perspective which is something that can benefit many businesses when it comes to delivering for its consumers. Articles have pointed towards the benefits of hiring externally and gaining fresh perspectives for organisational success. In fact, an article from staffing agency BOS Staffing noted that external hires bring in new ideas, different ways of thinking and can “also stimulate current staff to think differently”. The piece added that bringing in talent from outside the business can provide “instant input” to any new projects or business lines that are being worked on for which in-house knowledge could be limited, according to the blog post. “It’s important that we harness fresh ideas and new perspectives of our early careers cohort. That’s why we encourage them to work on real live projects from day one,” Joned explained.

How does M&S attract talent to the business?

“We offer a range of development opportunities from cross cohort projects set by our senior leadership.

“This includes secondments through our partnership with Founders Factory, mentoring, personal coaching and so much more.

“Our early careers colleagues also get access to our fantastic benefits platform MyChoices and of course 20% M&S discount.”

Other talent aisles

This fresh perspective – and offering young talent opportunities to engage with the retailer – extends beyond the Early Careers Programmes on offer as the firm has other programmes available to help bring in top talent. In fact, Jones said that the firm is proud of its long-standing relationship with The Prince’s Trust – a youth charity that helps young people aged 11 to 30-years-old get into jobs, education and training – “who help administer our movement to work scheme ‘Marks and Start’.” The retailer’s careers site explained that ‘Marks and Start’ is an employability scheme that helps people who are at a disadvantage with their job searches. She continued: “‘Marks and Start’ has been running for 17 years now and has helped support over 28,000 individuals who face barriers into employment back into work. In October, we welcomed our latest cohort of ‘Marks & Start’ colleagues into M&S – which saw 126 unemployed 16 to 30-year-olds begin placements at 54 of our stores in areas struggling with youth unemployment.” The myriad of programmes available to external talent could really help to boost fresh perspectives in the business.

M&S believes that its multi-pronged approach to attracting and engaging early careers talent with the business allows them to grow their own talent, in addition to providing the business with fresh perspectives, as Jones alluded to. With data pointing towards skills and talent shortages in industries such as retail, and other business thinking pointing towards the benefits of fresh perspectives in the world of work, tapping into the thinking of this cohort could be beneficial. With opportunities for school-leavers, to graduates and industrial placements – and even via the ‘Marks and Start’ programme – the range of programmes available to talent over the years has put the retailer in good stead to nurture and develop the necessary talent for the future. “Our programmes immerse the early careers cohorts into the heart of the business, enabling them to learn from the teams around them. We have structured development programmes within our business areas that help develop the skills required for the roles,” Jones concluded.

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