14/11/2014 07:36 GMT | Updated 14/11/2014 09:59 GMT

Theo Paphitis: 'A Degree Guarantees Nothing Bar Landing Youths In Debt And Training Them To Drink'

The Skills Show

Theo Paphitis is a man passionate about business - whether it's his or someone else's, the former Dragons Den star is championing entrepreneurship, but says he's still got his work cut out.

Times have changed; university is no longer a ticket to employment and employers want more. But, as Theo points out, the UK has been slow to catch on.

"A hundred million, billion, trillion years ago, blue collar workers Mr and Mrs Smith worked day and night to make enough money to educate their children and get them through university.

"Because if you got them through university they were guaranteed a job - a white collar job and a great salary - and their future could start off on a really good stead.

"Sadly," Theo continues, "a university degree now guarantees you absolutely nothing.

"Oh," he adds as an afterthought. "It does actually - it guarantees you one thing: debt."

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Speaking to HuffPost UK at this weekend's Skills Show, Theo points out far from being a "second class" route, apprenticeships can put young people way ahead of the game.

"You can go to university and get a degree, which guarantees you no job, and gets you in debt. You are now three or four years behind your friend who started an apprenticeship and is earning while they’re learning. They're so far ahead of you that you will be spending the rest of your life trying to find a job and catch up with them."

According to Theo, degrees have become almost obsolete in today's world.

"We know [graduates] have intellect. But you can check that without a degree. What you get [from graduates] is an older person who has now been trained in the art of drinking.

"Companies want raw talent. They want to teach young people specialities that they’re not going to learn at university."

Theo cites BAE Systems as a prime example; the defence, security and aerospace company, which creates technology for much of the UK's air, land and naval forces, recruit around 300 apprentices every year - far more than they do graduates.

"Apprenticeships have become really, really key now. Also employers are that much wiser now because of the number of degrees that are around. Sadly the gap between the relevance of a degree to a career has become so huge - what have you got to show?"

Theo says the fault partially lies with parents that children aren't educated about apprenticeships. "Parents, though, they have an excuse. They grew up at a time where the thinking was to get to university, it’s hard to change that."

Teachers, however, don't get off so easily. "They have got no excuse - that’s their career. They should know these things. Sadly, the career advice that is available in our colleges and schools is very very lacking."

The former Millwall FC boss says shows like the Skills Show are needed throughout the country - in order to get youths inspired and informed enough to make decisions about their future.

"What you have a passion for has no relevance when you go to university, you’re just wasting life. We need to try and get as many kids inspired with this big bang system of getting all employers here and getting kids to see things for real.

"And the competitions - competition is brilliant because that’s what you experience in life. Anyone who thinks they can teach without competition is a fool."

According to Theo, "no-one is ever too young to be taught entrepreneurism. More and more, yes please, and more and more and more."

Born in Cyprus, the self-made millionaire moved to Britain aged nine and attended a local comprehensive, where he battled with dyslexia. He first got a taste for business running a tuck shop at school aged 15 - and as they say, the rest is history.

"We do need to start teaching what I would call lateral thinking. About what you do and why you do it and challenging yourselves. Even if [youths] don’t use it in their later careers as entrepreneurs, I promise you they will use it in their jobs.

"What we’ve got to understand is being an entrepreneur is not Del-Boy. Trying to make a bit of money here and there. It is a structured career."

As chairman of Ryman's, Theo launched the National Enterprise Challenge - an inter school competition between secondary schools from all over the UK.

He even went so far as to launch a "pracademic" degree at Huddersfield University. The entrepreneurship course sees students learn about "the ways of the world" in the first year. In their second, they start a business.

And their third? "We don't want to see you. You've just got to deliver. And when you leave university, you’ve got a degree but then you have also got your own job as you’ve started your own business."

Half of entrepreneurs fail because of a lack of knowledge and skills, Theo explains. "The education wasn't there."

But they don't fail permanently; they learn, and then they go and start another business which is successful. "But it's been a painful and expensive learning exercise.

"Why do they have to do that?" the retail magnate muses. "Why don’t we teach just them beforehand?"