Since its 2004 launch, Marks & Start has helped over 1,800 adults enter the workforce by giving them experience, references, support and confidence in their abilities. Over a third of these have been from the Lone Parents Return To Work programme, run in partnership with One Parent Families, a national charity that aims to help some of the UK’s 1.9m lone parent families.
Today’s figures show that one in four UK families only has one parent. Of these, nearly half are living in poverty with many more in danger of slipping below the breadline. In many cases, the poverty is either caused, or perpetuated, by the difficulty they face in combining caring for a family and working at the same time.
The Lone Parent programme aims to tackle the key difficulties that lone parents face when they are trying to re-enter the workforce. Marks & Spencer chose to work with One Parent Families because the charity has over ninety years of experience and is an expert in the field. Through the partnership, Marks & Spencer has been able to set clear and relevant socio-economic targets and this has helped to make the programme a success.
Freda Pinner, project manager for corporate social responsibility at Marks & Spencer, tells Briefing that a clear example of the strategic planning is in the structure of the programme itself. “We initially structured the programme so it helped parents with partners as well as lone parents… [but] we amended this two years ago when we noticed that lone parents were in most cases, more in need of support.”
Nigel Purkis, deputy chief executive of One Parent Families, further explains that a recent survey the charity conducted showed that over 70% of lone parents who weren’t working said that finding a job to fit in with their children’s school or childcare was the main barrier preventing them from doing so. In recognition of this, the Lone Parent programme has developed a relationship with Jobcentre Plus that now provides childcare funding support for participants of the programme.
He added however, that “as well as these practical issues, for lone parents who’ve been out of the labour market for a long time, confidence can often be an issue”. Marks & Start therefore aims to give parents the opportunity to meet new people in similar situations and realise the value of their skills and the ways in which they can be applied to the workplace.
What makes Marks & Start stand out a a successful partnership is the mutual benefit that all parties have enjoyed. Purkis tells Briefing that “the value of the programme has come to be recognised over time not just in corporate social responsibility terms but also in HR recruitment terms”.
Participants in the Lone Parent programme have one of the highest rates of success of all those involved in Marks & Start, with 41% going on to find employment. Their commitment is confirmed by lower than average absentee rates compared to typical industry standards.
Such success has given both parties the confidence to seek out further partners to work with. Marks & Spencer has already begun exploring opportunities for expanding Marks & Start within their supply chains abroad and can boast successes in both India and Sri Lanka. One Parent Families is also keen to forge new partnerships with other companies.
Both Marks & Spencer and One Parent Families assert that good communication is the cornerstone of a successful partnership. “The key thing is to be clear about your own objectives and about the company’s objectives. These must be aligned if the relationship is to succeed,” says Purkis. Similarly, Pinner emphasises that regular contact with partner organisations ensures the smooth-running of Marks & Start, and that regular feedback between the charity and company ensures that the programme aims remain clear, and the programme itself successful.