16 September, 2016

History in the making

Supporting school leavers has long been a tradition at M&S. Since the 1950s, we’ve nurtured and developed this valuable source of young talent. This year, the scheme evolves into our Retail Management Apprenticeship for School Leavers (Level 4). As we take this next step in our journey, here’s a look back on how we got to where we are today.

In the fifties, gender roles were far more defined than they are today. Back then, M&S targeted ‘final year’ girls from secondary moderns – the forerunners of today’s comprehensive schools. Some stores forged strong links with their local communities, throwing open their doors to welcome pupils three times a year. Each party of girls would get to see all parts of the store and end their day with tea and chocolate biscuits over an informal talk with the store manager. Senior staff would get involved and local authorities would be keen to include an M&S store visit as part of their curriculum.

While this may seem a very old-fashioned approach today it was typical of the times. By the 1970s, however, the relationships with our school leaver audience was maturing and we were taking a much more inclusive view.

In 1971, we took our next steps in reaching out to school leavers. This was the year when we started attending our first careers fairs and exhibitions. Our aim was to encourage 15 and 16 years olds to build their careers with us when they left school. Another sign of the changing times was a 1973 poster aimed at developing our existing in-store talent: ‘Women who like to leave the management to men need not apply’. A bold message for the times.

In the early 80s, tougher economic times called for action and it was as part the much-publicised Youth Training Scheme that our school leaver’s programme began to take shape. This offered 50 places in the Teeside and Manchester areas. It was designed to offer varied and comprehensive work experience together with formal training. This was offered in conjunction with other retailers and involved trainees spending eight weeks with us in the first six months of their training.

By the time the 90s were in full swing, we’d established our own Young Managers Programme. School leavers joined us as retail generalists in their first year before going on to specialise in HR, Finance or Commercial in their second. This later evolved into the A-level programme. Finally, in the late 90s, the Management Training Scheme came into being, offering a fast track into management for around 30 people each year. This was advertising telling potential candidates to forget about where they saw themselves in five years’ time; M&S would equip them to become managers in less than two.

And so the programme continued until today; offering the brightest school leaver talent the opportunity to immerse themselves in all the complexities of retail with a high street icon.

The next stage in the evolution of the programme, as in the 80s, has been influenced by a government initiative. The focus on the value and importance of Apprenticeships as a way for young people to enter the world of work has been gathering pace in recent years. M&S stands fully behind this. We firmly believe that combining our expertise in providing exemplary training with the opportunity to achieve a recognised qualification is a great step forward in our long-standing relationship with school leavers. Exciting times lie ahead. Could you be next to make history on this remarkable scheme? Click here for more info and to apply.

Inside M&S