Developing soft skills for today's workplace at Marks & Spencer

By Rebecca Keeble

You get a good feeling when you come across something that you immediately know is a good fit for both your organisation and your people.

At M&S, we’re two years into our Enterprise Graduate Programme, where graduates are offered an additional apprenticeship to build leadership skills. We’re still in the ‘shaping and moulding’ phase, and the engaging content, relevant skills areas and different format on offer with Future Talent Learning’s Transformational Leadership Programme meshed so well with the approach we’re taking and direction we’re going. It felt spot on for both the type and the level of audience we need to appeal to.

Complementary learning proposition 

We started with a small pilot of graduates, but from day one we had eyes on what the bigger perspective could be and how this different type of programme – delivered virtually and with an experiential learning approach – could complement our overall learning proposition and unlock potential for so many colleagues. We were sitting on money in the apprenticeship levy that we could be doing more with, and here was something off-the-shelf but with a good ‘M&S feel’ – it just stood out as an obvious thing to do. I’m so impressed that the apprenticeship levy can fund such modern, engaging and relevant development for our people.

 

Previously, we’ve used our levy pot to support us with more technical or retail-based apprenticeships, but this is the first time we’ve ventured into a leadership space. It’s been brilliant to receive feedback from learners around the quality of content and speakers, and how they’ve been able to use what they’ve learnt immediately in their day jobs.

Developing soft skills for today's workplace 

What stood out particularly for me was how closely the Transformational Leadership Programme modules aligned with the key skills we’re focused on developing internally. Through modules covering self-awareness and self-management, alongside those developing communication and decision- making, the all-important soft skills of problem-solving, teamwork, critical thinking and agility, among many others, are built and evolved. These are central to developing talent for today’s workplace.

 

I’m impressed with how Future Talent Learning’s approach is both relevant and innovative; how the online platform looks and the way learning happens through experience, gamification and virtual challenges is something I’ve not seen from other training providers. The fresh activity-led elements seen in the Transformational Leadership Programme make all the difference, particularly to graduates: they don’t want to be talked at; they want to take part and be involved from the outset.

"I can definitely say that our ambitions for this leadership apprenticeship are being realised and that by partnering with Future Talent Learning, we are successfully complementing our Enterprise Graduate Programme"

Rebecca Keeble, Talent Manager, M&S

The virtual nature suits scenario based learning 

It’s clear that Future Talent has come at this from a learning perspective, not from a training perspective and a desire to build a one-size-fits-all programme. I can see expertise and depth in its development, and the positivity I feel is being reflected in excellent feedback from the graduate cohort. In particular, learners have described how well the content has been thought through from a virtual angle, using digital simulation to place participants in workplace scenarios and set challenges that develop both individual and team skills. In fact, I do believe it’s the fully virtual nature of the programme that makes the activities and experiences so innovative and engaging.

 

One learner was quite sceptical ahead of the time-management section in the self-management module. As someone who has a master’s degree and is respected as a high performer in their role, there was a concern they might simply be covering old ground. Conversely, the engaging session proved invaluable: they’re now using the new methods acquired through the programme and have completely changed how they work, managing time and themselves more efficiently.

Engaging sessions that stretch learning 

It’s been brilliant to hear how a strong learning culture is developing, with apprentices keen to share their learning and help cement it while being able to positively influence people around them and improve efficiencies. Seeing this keenness to apply learning back in the business reinforces just how interesting and engaging participants are finding the programme – just as we’d expected.

 

Each module provides many stretch resources that make it easy for learners to go further and do extra reading, exploring a skills topic in greater detail, for example. This ticks the box for graduates, in particular, who will make time to prioritise their own development in this way.

 

Participants have talked about how effective the one-to-one coaching has been for them, in terms of both keeping to the programme deliverables and providing opportunities to share development with their line manager. Specifically, they highlighted the programme’s tripartite approach and how it provides a platform for hugely beneficial three-way coaching conversations between them, their manager and their coach. Through these conversations, they’ve felt able to clearly demonstrate the programme’s value to their role, particularly around the importance of time away from the job through the 20% off-the-job training model, and influencing their line manager of its worth.

“I’m so impressed that the apprenticeship levy can fund such modern, engaging and relevant development for our people”

Rebecca Keeble, Talent Manager, M&S

Supporting graduates to become future leaders 

We embarked on the Transformational Leadership Programme with an ambition to see our graduates become more effective in their role, whether through developing their soft skills, being more self-aware and agile, or growing their understanding of different business functions to give them a broader base to draw from as future leaders.

 

I can definitely say that our ambitions for this leadership apprenticeship are being realised and that by partnering with Future Talent Learning, we are successfully complementing our Future Leaders Graduate Programme.

Conclusion

While listening to a webinar the other day by another training provider, I was reminded why Future Talent Learning gives such a different offering and stands out in this leadership development space. Its programme is highly relevant for today’s business environment, designed to fully engage learners in a virtual setting and can be fully funded by the apprenticeship levy in England.

 

We’re delighted with how participants are developing and look forward to bringing through many more M&S cohorts in 2021.

 

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