Theo Paphitis, Dragon’s Den magnate and retail extraordinaire, wants young people to know that university is not the only route to success.

 Theo Paphitis may be a standout businessman today, but he started life in the working world as an assistant to the tea boy for a Lloyds of London broker. From there, the determined youngster moved into the retail world, and then on to property and corporate finance. By 23, the age of a recent graduates, Paphitis was setting up his own company.

He’s served as the chairman at Milwall FC and is the man behind Rymans and Boux Avenue, but Paphitis hasn’t forgotten his entrepreneurialbeginnings. He’ll be at The Skills Show in Birmingham this November.

“For me it’s the most exciting event on my calendar to be perfectly honest with you,” says Paphitis. “To see 100,000 kids coming into one place and with the enthusiasm they have to talk about their future and work – which can be a contradiction in terms when it comes to kids.”

The practical dragon would urge young people to choose wisely before deciding on their chosen career and the best route to getting there.

“Does the skill that they want to progress in and think they have require university? If not then go straight into it,” he says.

“Once upon a time you sent your son or daughter to university because it was guaranteed you got a degree and you’d get a good job at the end of it. That no longer is true.”

Rather than going to university “and adding loads of debt” Paphitis sees apprenticeships as a practical way forward.

“They can learn while they earn and then have a job at the end of it, and then when somebody comes out of university they’re ahead of the game,” he explains, adding that, “a lot of people have actually wised up.”

And for Paphitis, as an employer himself, the most important quality in a new recruit is simply a willingness to work.

“Because as long as they have a passion and a work ethic we can teach them practically everything else. So those are the key things, that raw material that we interview for, we need to see that.”

There’s a lot to learn and Paphitis comes across as a great teacher: along with fellow dragon Peter Jones, Paphitis took Red Letter Days out of administration. What’s more, he’s an investor in inSmarta, an advice and support network for small business owners and entrepreneurs.

And while Phaphitis “doesn’t have a crystal ball,” this businessman sees conditions in British business getting progressively better.

“We’ve managed to keep unemployment and interest rates down which has also been a key factor in the recovery, and whichever political party you follow, you know the fact is that things are getting better and it is down very much to British business and the great British public who have buckled down and actually seen us through this very tough recession.”

His own entrepreneurial road to success and current retail portfolio speak volumes, but Paphitis wants everyone to make up their own career minds.

At the end of the day, “It really is about horses for courses and what suits people.”

 For info on The Sills Show, 13 – 15 November at the NEC Birmingham, visit: www.theskillsshow.com