M&S transforms its emerging talent strategy

Aug 17, 2021 | Attraction & marketing, Development

To consolidate its rapid digital transformation in recent years, M&S has made major changes to its strategy in relation to hiring apprentices, interns and graduates – with the aim of developing early talent with leadership skills and bolder commercial vision.

M&S has been a winner of the ISE Award for Best Emerging Talent Strategy. This was based on its innovative development of a new and more relevant internal emerging talent experience – one that guarantees candidates’ expectations meet reality upon joining the business. 

CEO Steve Rowe, the HR Leadership and Recruitment teams, and employer branding agency, Radancy, all worked together to conduct research including feedback from the current early careers cohort. M&S then built its strategy upon the crucial points raised by the group.

The strategy’s objectives were to:

  • deliver on promises made in attraction campaigns to improve retention
  • attract candidates from a broader range of degree disciplines to improve diversity of thought
  • prevent silos forming amongst graduates on different programmes and give everyone a broader understanding of the business, and
  • remove internal barriers to progression for early careers employees.

To invite applications from a diversity of degrees supporting specialist skills, M&S redesigned a set of core programmes – such as ‘Food Technology’, ‘Design’ and ‘Retail’. The brand-new ‘Enterprise Programme’ was also launched to attract ‘a new breed of entrepreneurial change agents’.

Additionally, M&S required the whole early careers intake to understand its company-wide vision. So, each individual was given a development manager who supported them in rotating throughout relevant departments. This reduced silos from forming amongst graduates, creating a unified culture. 

Across the business, team leaders and senior leadership also received training in tactics they could use to open doors for hard-working early careers employees.

With the infrastructure in place, the external strategy centred on ‘The Future Needs…’ attraction campaign. Designed to appeal to the UK’s most ambitious students, it utilised highly disruptive content across social media and beyond. 

A smart, UX-driven early careers website matched candidates to programmes. Escape room-inspired assessment tools preceded interviews. And candidates even chatted to current M&S graduates via the website’s WhatsApp feature.

Consequently, the appeal, hiring processes and internal development programmes at M&S have improved for emerging talent. M&S received over 10,000 applications in 2018 alone and have since hired 20 Enterprise graduates. 

Head of M&S Food Online, Sam Hornsby, sums up: “The calibre of early talent has been top-class. All of them have landed well and played big parts in really important initiatives.”

This is an excerpt from the ISE Complete Guide to Student Recruitment and Development

Read more case studies from ISE members

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