11/03/2014 09:44 GMT | Updated 10/05/2014 06:59 BST

Realise Your Career Potential With an Apprenticeship

With National Apprenticeship Week in full swing last week, and since youth unemployment remains at 20%, it's more important than ever that we do everything we can to help young people into work. I'm an example of how an apprenticeship can give you a job for life after joining British Gas as an apprentice 34 years ago, back in 1980, and now I run our six training academies across the UK training the engineers of tomorrow.

For many years, I've advised young people, school leavers and people wanting a new career to consider an apprenticeship as a great alternative to university. It's a fast track route to get involved with an organisation and work your way up like I have.

The business I work for is one of the UK's biggest employers of apprentices and we're long-time advocates of apprenticeships, providing 100,000 hours of training last year. We've recently partnered with the think-tank Demos to launch a new report which recommends that raising apprenticeship levels to 300,000 would tackle youth unemployment and bridge the productivity gap in the UK. What's more surprising to discover is that less than 10% of employers in England offer apprenticeships even though 54 percent of young people (aged 16-24) in England would choose to do an apprenticeship if one was available.

It's vital that everybody in the position to do so can help young people and raise awareness of the benefits that skilled training can bring to not only businesses but to the country as a whole too. For example, an apprenticeship typically raises an individual's productivity by £214 per week, leading to increased wages and benefits for their employer. It's a win-win situation. For me, the greatest satisfaction is watching apprentices progress and really flourish within their role. With some hard work and determination, anyone can succeed at an apprenticeship and it can really take you places.

People often think that they already need some technical skills before they apply for an apprenticeship, but that's not necessarily true. Instead, we're looking for people who are natural communicators and want to provide a great service to help our customers. You don't even need prior experience to apply. Training is very important for getting the most out of an apprenticeship. For example, successful candidates at one of our six nationwide Academies complete a two-year training programme and receive a City & Guilds Level 3 QCF Diploma in Gas Utilisation. At any good apprenticeship scheme, it's best when the people who deliver the programme were once apprentices themselves, so they can relate to what's it like and know how it feels to begin their career as an apprentice.

Let's not forgot that undertaking an apprenticeship is a great career option for the individuals themselves. It not only means young people can get paid while they train, but it also provides skills for life. I'd recommend anyone, no matter what age or gender, to consider an apprenticeship as it's a well-rounded career option, one that can teach many technical and social skills in a short space of time. If you do get the opportunity to do one, my advice is to enjoy every minute of it and get stuck in!

My main piece of advice would be to research into the industries that are of interest to you and do some digging into what apprenticeships are on offer - you'll be amazed at what you can find, it's the best time to do it now!