The Skills Show gets under way on Thursday (November 19) at NEC Birmingham and celebrity entrepreneur Theo Paphitis wants to see as many FE providers as possible.

Vocational education and careers are hot right now. Open any newspaper or magazine, watch TV or listen to the radio, and the talk is all about apprenticeships, traineeships and suitable careers for young people which involve earning while they learn — all music to my ears.

I have always been passionate about skills. Leaving school without any meaningful qualifications can make you really appreciate the learning that you do in the workplace and the skills that you pick up.

Make sure that you get involved with The Skills Show in some way to keep spreading the inspiration

I was lucky, I know, to discover the retail sector early in my working life — it inspired me, and motivated me to make the best of myself that I could. So how can we provide similar inspiration for young people to ensure they can make a meaningful contribution to the economy when they are actually out there working?

The government’s call to establish 3m apprenticeships during the life of this Parliament has shone a light on the sector, and is providing a great opportunity to showcase how varied and interesting FE is. It should also be a great chance for educators to link up with employers and provide a real link to the workplace for young people. So how can colleges take full advantage and change the perceptions of some parents that the sector is not for their children?

This month sees the fourth annual Skills Show at the NEC in Birmingham. I am delighted to be patron of this event, which showcases the very best in skills, apprenticeships and careers to more than 75,000 young people, their parents, teachers and other educators. I always make time to fit in a visit to the event, however busy my diary, because it inspires me and I find out new things — so how much more exciting must that be for a young person seeking a future career?

Every year, the college personnel that I talk to at the event say how inspiring it is for them to see so many young people finding their own passions — whether that be in manufacturing, engineering, accountancy, floristry or one of the other many different careers on show at the event. Seeing their peers demonstrate their skills in WorldSkills UK competitions, or hearing the successful Team UK representatives from WorldSkills São Paulo talk about their experiences earlier this year can only be motivational for visitors.

Of course it is a great opportunity to sign up new students. One college principal last year told me he filled an entire intake for one subject simply by staging a Have-a-Go at the event — that’s what I call a marketing budget well spent.

For 2015, event organisers at Find a Future have established a Future Skills zone, showcasing some of the careers which will be vital to sustained economic growth in the future. When I started work, mobile phones were like bricks, and about as agile — technology has moved the world of work to new heights since then.

But careers of the future are not just about space-age technology — the way we live our lives is constantly changing, with new opportunities in all sorts of traditional areas from engineering and manufacturing through to catering and design, and this will undoubtedly create new careers and training opportunities for all.

Working together at The Skills Show, FE colleges have the chance to change the way people think about skills and vocational education as a whole.

As a collective, the Premier Colleges group has shown how collaborative working can raise the profile not only of their individual colleges but of FE as a whole.

The event showcases the next generation of talented young people, who will be the backbone of our future workforce, and it is up to all of us to give them the inspiration they need.

My challenge to the FE sector is to make sure that you get involved with The Skills Show in some way to keep spreading the inspiration — I look forward to seeing you there.