Marks & Spencer (M&S) will today (Wednesday 25th March) announce plans to double the participation in its Marks & Start scheme – a programme designed to help individuals with disabilities and health conditions, the young unemployed, lone parents and those tackling homelessness to gain vital employability skills.

The announcement comes as part of a Westminster reception hosted by M&S CEO Marc Bolland to mark ten years of its ground breaking Marks & Start programme. To mark the anniversary, the retailer has brought together business leaders and the programme’s charity partners to set out its commitment to further invest in employability – with a pledge to provide work placement opportunities to 10,000 individuals who face significant barriers to employment by 2020.

Marc Bolland, Chief Executive of Marks & Spencer, said:

“Through Marks & Start, we want to give individuals the opportunity that can be the turning point they need to change their lives for the better. Over the last decade, we have seen how the scheme also motivates and engages our existing employees, creates new development opportunities and builds a real sense of pride within our teams. Engagement is at the heart of our business and that’s why we want to continue to lead the charge in tackling unemployment.”

Since its first intake in the 2004/05 financial year, the Marks & Start scheme has supported over 10,000 individuals by working in partnership with four leading specialist partners – Remploy (people with disabilities), Gingerbread (lone parents), The Prince’s Trust (young people aged 16-25) and Business in the Community (homeless or those at risk of homelessness).

As part of today’s event, attendees will hear from beneficiaries of the scheme from the last ten years – including single father of two Simon Lewis who works in the M&S Café at M&S Llandudno; Natasha Gaskell, 25, from M&S Sutton Coldfield who faced years of bullying in school and an unsettled family life growing up; and Ciaran Phoenix who was homeless and unemployed before enrolling in Marks & Start at M&S Newtownbreda, where he has been working for the last ten years.

At present, over 60 percent of participants that complete the programme gain employment with M&S or another employer within 13 weeks and over 90 percent report that Marks & Start has improved their confidence and helped them in their steps to find work. Over eight out of ten existing M&S employees said they are proud of the Marks & Start scheme. The scheme also provides existing employees with development opportunities – for example, 70 percent of existing M&S employees said acting as a scheme buddy has help them to realise their own strengths in their role, 66 percent welcomed the opportunity to build mentoring skills and 61 percent said Marks & Start has improved their communication skills.

Over the last ten years, M&S has continued to evolve its Marks & Start scheme. This includes the introduction of an international programme with some of its clothing suppliers in Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka in 2007, which has been extended across its international stores in France, Greece and Poland and in 2012, the retailer formed a specialist Marks & Start Logistics programme in partnership with Remploy.  In summer 2013, the retailer expanded its partnership with The Prince’s Trust to launch ‘Make Your Mark’ aimed at long-term unemployed youth aged 16-25 who are also not in education or training. This led to the creation of the UK-wide ‘Movement to Work’ – a collaboration of around 200 employers including 14 leading FTSE businesses and their suppliers, to play their part in helping young unemployed people into the job market.

Title image courtesy of Mtaylor848 via Wikimedia Commons