I REMEMBER filling in my university application form very well. I was just 17 and the idea of going to university was so exciting.

I was applying to this rather grand organisation – the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) – and trying to make my grades and personal statement stand out.

Filling in the UCAS form felt very grown up. It was a learning experience in itself and something I shared with many of my school friends. It was a rite of passage.

But while university worked for me, it isn’t for everyone. There are many ways to prepare for a successful career and one of those is an apprenticeship.

Some people think apprenticeships are inferior to a degree. They are not. It is just a different way of learning.

In fact, a top-level apprenticeship is equivalent to a degree and earning while you learn in the workplace makes a lot of sense for many young people. I want parents, students and teachers to feel that an apprenticeship can be just as good an option as university.

I also want it to be easier for small businesses to find young, local talent, and straightforward for schools to help their students find great opportunities in our area.

To help make these aspirations a reality, I secured UCAS’ support to create North Yorkshire Apprenticeships. From next month, young people in our area will be able to apply for an apprenticeship through a UCAS system in exactly the same way as someone who is applying to go to university. They will enjoy that same rite of passage experience.

I am writing to almost 1,000 businesses locally to ask them to consider taking on an apprentice. It is a great opportunity because there is support in the shape of a £1,500 Government apprenticeship grant and the Government also meets the cost of formal training for school leavers. Recent research also showed that apprentices boosted productivity in the firms they worked for by £214 a week.

I’m going to lead by example by recruiting an apprentice for my Northallerton constituency office and it will be advertised shortly on the new UCAS online apprenticeship portal, along with, I hope, many other local apprenticeship offers.

If you are a small or large enterprise that could (or already does) support our community and help your business by taking on an apprentice, please contact the team on nyadvisor@parliament,uk or 01609 765329 to learn more about this new UCAS project.

Apart from the important role played by UCAS, I am very grateful for the practical support I have had from colleges of further education, among them Darlington, York and Redcar and Cleveland. Our local secondary schools, the local enterprise partnership and North Yorkshire, Hambleton and Richmondshire councils are also very enthusiastic. Everybody is playing their part to make this project a success and provide our young people with a fantastic set of apprenticeship opportunities.

Tonight, I’ll be at Richmond Town Hall spending time with young people already in apprenticeships. I have the honour of presenting the very first apprenticeship awards organised by the Fellmongers of Richmond. The event will be attended by about 40 local apprentices and the Mayor of Richmond will also be present. It promises to be a great night.