From as far back as I could remember it had been drummed into my family and teachers that university was the only way to a rewarding career. Serving an apprenticeship was never a consideration, they had never even been mentioned to me.
Despite enjoying my time at university, I have come to realise it is not for everyone. Many students feel they are pushed on to courses, saddled with years of debt, and come out without the skills employers want.
Whenever I meet with businesses in Islwyn they tell me many of their older workers are approaching retirement age and they are finding it difficult to replace them with younger ones. Likewise, young people who are put off by the cost of a university education say they are not aware of the opportunities out there.
So I decided to organise a special event that would offer young people an opportunity to learn more. In partnership with Careers Wales, I hosted the Islwyn Apprenticeship Fair at Risca Leisure Centre on the 15th of November
Over 700 pupils from schools all over Gwent came along to hear from local and national employers about the apprenticeships on offer.
While the fair was a success and will become an annual fixture, there is still much more we can do to promote apprenticeships. Many small and medium-sized firms are open-minded about offering apprenticeships, but often just need more support and information about how to go about it.
For those looking for an alternative to university, there should be more advice available. I would like to see more schools invite businesses in to talk about the opportunities they have on offer. Equally, I want to see companies invite school pupils in to see work in action.
We need more apprenticeships but that can only happen if people know about them. I hope the Islwyn Apprenticeship Fair will encourage more people to promote the opportunities they have on offer for our young people.