Apprenticeships are attracting a huge amounts of interest from across the political spectrum. We've come a long way from the days when Tony Blair is said to have joked that political interest in vocational education was such that he could make a declaration of war in a speech about skills and no-one would ever notice.
What seemed like the most terrible scenario in the world ended up being the biggest godsend as I was forced to look at alternative options. Within a month I'd had a lucky meeting with someone and managed to secure some work experience. It was this year after school when I realised how IMPORTANT work experience was.
Looking back, what I remember vividly is the dedication and enthusiasm of those who taught me. The practical skills I learnt from this vocational training have stayed with me for life and provided a solid foundation for my career as a garden designer. I have extremely happy, fond memories of this time - much better memories than those in the classroom not really interested in what I was being taught.
For many years vocational education has been stigmatised as only suitable for the 'less bright', and for those that needed to prepare for a specific trade. This is because vocational education directly develops expertise in techniques related to technology, skill and scientific technique to span all aspects of the trade
A report out this summer revealed that only 19.5% of Welsh applications to Oxford and Cambridge were successful during the 2011-12 admissions cycle, compared to a success rate of 25% for England and Northern Ireland... Welsh industry most certainly does require that top level expertise if it is to continue to thrive.
It is an age old stereotype that vocational learning is a last resort for those who have failed academically, a 'plan b' for when exams go wrong and options are limited. As with all stereotypes it is oversimplified and damaging. Putting people in boxes, labelling them one thing or the other is wrong and calling a child 'too clever' for vocational education is no exception.
It's that time of year again when thousands of young people put the final touches on their UCAS applications, hold their breath and hit 'send'. Then they anxiously wait for weeks until their 'life-altering' results come through. My son went through this process last year. I'll never forget his panicked face as he said, 'What if I don't get any offers?'
The IAC is giving learners something they have not had before - a national voice. The changing landscape of apprenticeships in this country, as Government endeavours to secure the vocational route as a central pathway into fulfilling careers, requires input from those who will be affected - the apprentices themselves.
The idea of only awarding substantial public sector contracts to those companies that agree to train a significant number of the next generation of Apprenticeships is one that we fully endorse. Although this did not get through the last parliament, it is encouraging that this is now part of Labour party policy.