‘Make your Mark’ : How Marks & Spencer are supporting young people into work

May 19 2016

In 2004, three years before they launched Plan A, Marks & Spencer asked their customers which disadvantaged groups of society they wanted them to support into work. They highlighted single parents along with disabled, homeless and young people. Inspired by their concern, they launched an employability programme called Marks & Start, working together with partners including BITC, Gingerbread, The Prince’s Trust and Remploy (since 2010). Since 2004, over 15,000 participants have taken part in Marks & Start.

In 2013 responding to growing concerns around youth unemployment, the company extended Marks & Starts to include a new programme - Make Your Mark – a tailored four-week work in-store employability scheme for disadvantaged young people.  

All participants who complete their placement are ‘accredited’ - which means they can take up any suitable vacancy in an M&S store without having to apply online, or complete an interview and assessment process. At the end of their placement, the company also run celebration events bringing together the young people, their buddies, senior managers, other businesses and friends & families. Each participant gives an account of how they’ve developed over the four weeks to show how they’ve grown in confidence and skills in social situations as well as practical understanding of skills in retail.


  • Lives changed - Around 50% of participants who’ve completed the employability programmes have found work within 3 months (both with M&S and at other companies)

  • People development – The programme develops key competencies in employees such as communication, leadership and teamwork.

  • Employee engagement – The programme boosts pride and passion in M&S. 99% of buddies feel motivated by their involvement and it helps Marks & Spencer to recruit loyal and committed employees.

“Before the course nobody would give me a chance and I felt worthless. I was terrified but knew I had to give it a go and, with the help of The Prince’s Trust and M&S, I’m pleased to say I did just that. Without this chance I’d still be claiming benefits, too scared to try anything new. With my new-found confidence, my aim is to give others the boost they need to show they can get through the worst of times, just like I did.” Stacey Fox, 23, Make Your Mark Graduate, Swansea.

Top Tips

Make Your Mark has taught the company a number of crucial lessons for the future:

  • External Partners - Marks & Spencer achieved stronger outcomes for young people and the business by working with skilled partners outside M&S

  • Scale up - Well thought-through initiatives can ‘spark’ enthusiasm amongst colleagues and help take them to a bigger scale

  • Colleague ‘buy-in’ for initiatives - from senior management to the shop floor – is essential

  • Celebrating success - in this case running Make your Mark graduation events - is a great way to spark new interest inside and outside M&S

Marks & Spencer has been committed to ‘doing the right thing’ since we first opened for business over 130 years ago and doing business sustainably is part of our DNA. We work really hard to make a difference to the lives of young people through our programme Make Your Mark. We believe that not investing in the future workforce today will only lead to a talent deficit tomorrow, so it’s important that businesses think about making the workplace accessible for all young people and embrace their potential.” Claire Maydew, Employability Manager