Sacha Berendji, retail, operations and property director at Marks and Spencer is passionate about the benefits of providing placements.

Sacha Berendji, retail, operations and property director at Marks and Spencer is passionate about the benefits of providing placements for young people who need extra help getting on the career ladder, and how this and mentoring has helped put further ‘heart and soul’ into M&S!

M&S has been committed to providing opportunities for young unemployed people for over 15 years. Working with Movement to Work, The Prince’s Trust, Remploy and Business in the Community, we’ve supported over 20,000 young people through our ‘Marks & Start’ employability scheme, providing employability skills, on the job training and a chance to get a job with prospects.

Participants spend two to four weeks on a training placement and during that time, each person is paired with a buddy. Their buddy gives everyday support and helps participants with any questions they have while on their placement. If an individual successfully finishes and passes the training, they can apply for any M&S vacancy in any store within a six-month period, without having to apply online or be assessed; their placement is a more-than-adequate assessment of their capability. This removes one of the biggest barriers to employment these individuals face.

Mentoring is good for M&S

Marks & Start also offers development opportunities for existing employees. They develop business critical skills such as communication, leadership, teamwork and resilience through ‘buddy’ mentoring roles; 87% of buddies say the programme boosts their skills, loyalty and pride in working for M&S.

Ongoing evaluation shows that 99% of buddies feel motivated by involvement in the scheme and 98% say it makes M&S a better place to work. Employees feel a pride and passion that their employer cares and go out of its way to support disadvantaged people in the community.

And 90% of the participants say that the programme changed their lives, giving them the confidence to get back to or into work. Over 90% say that they now had a greater understanding of the world of work and have improved self-esteem and the confidence they needed to get back into work.

Heart and soul!

The young people I’ve met on our Marks & Start programme have been very engaging and unbelievably positive about the opportunity they’ve been given, and our retail teams love to see people so eager to learn, progress and be part of the M&S family.

Over the last 10 years around 40% of participants have gone into employment with M&S or another employer, with this reaching over 50% during some years. With over 10,000 people having passed through the programme we continue to celebrate the diversity to our workforce this brings, and the moving life stories that sit behind the figures; one of our recent participants said: “It’s changed my life, I thought I’d never get a job, that no one would employee me, Marks & Start has turned my life around.”