A 37-year-old from Maesteg has discussed how an apprenticeship has given him a new lease of life after he left school with no qualifications to pursue a career as a professional snooker player.

James Matthewman is supporting the ‘Genius Decision’ campaign this Apprenticeship Week Wales, and hoping to encourage more people who are looking to upskill, gain qualifications or change careers later in life to consider an apprenticeship.

Despite enjoying school, James focused on becoming a professional snooker player when he was younger, which saw him travel the world competing in countries such as Latvia and Russia.

After struggling to secure any sponsorship to help fund his dream, he decided to explore different career paths that would allow him to become more financially independent.

During his job search, he visited his local golf club where a chance encounter resulted in him kickstarting an unexpected career.

Speaking about his experience, James said: “I was searching for a job at my local golf club when I got talking to the head greenkeeper who told me there was an opportunity within his team.

“I had no horticulture experience but a strong work ethic and bags of enthusiasm, so I snapped up the opportunity and began learning on-the-job. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with greenkeeping!”

James spent many years in this job where he learnt his trade from experienced colleagues before being offered a new opportunity at Maesteg Golf Club as an assistant greenkeeper. It was here his apprenticeship journey started when he was already 11 years into his career.

“I don’t regret my decision trying to make it as a professional snooker player after education as it gave me so many amazing experiences and opportunities like travelling the world and meeting new people. However, looking back, I should have probably focused a little more on school and making sure I left with my GCSEs and that feeling has always stuck with me.

“Over the years, I felt it was important to back-up the knowledge and practical experience I’d gained in the workplace with qualifications, so I began exploring apprenticeships. Luckily my employer was really supportive and open to the idea.”

James successfully completed an Essential Skills Wales qualification to help him acquire the numeracy and literacy skills he needed to undertake his Level 2 Apprenticeship in Sports Turf and Horticulture.

“I was a little apprehensive starting my apprenticeship as I was 29-years-old and had wrongly presumed most apprentices would be school leavers, so it was a surprise to meet another learner on my course who was 57-years-old!

“I felt like my whole career to date was built on me learning on-the-job, so it suited me to be able to do a mixture of classroom and practical learning.

“My apprenticeship taught me the science and technical knowledge behind greenkeeping – from identifying diseases and pests, to how to best manage each type of grass and water or drainage management.”

Having had such a positive first experience, James wanted to continue his adult learning journey and decided to enrol on a Level 3 Apprenticeship in Sport and Turf management to expand his skillset.

“As I was progressing in my career, I felt there were so many new skills that could benefit me from a business and management perspective. The Level 3 in Sports Turf and Management Apprenticeship allowed me to develop a completely new skillset.

“I wasn’t confident with numbers having left school without my maths GCSE, but my apprenticeship really helped to hone my financial skills and build back my confidence by teaching me how to collate budgets, develop financial reports and write method statements.”

After completing his second apprenticeship, James was promoted to deputy head greenkeeper, which sees him take temporary charge of a team of four in a management role.

Asked about his advice to others who may be thinking about becoming an apprentice later in life, James added: “A lot of people are frightened to get back into education after a period away but it’s never too late.

“Not only have I learnt new skills and gained qualifications, but my apprenticeship has helped grow my confidence and build my professional network – all while having fun and meeting friends along the way.


“Completing an apprenticeship has been one of the best and most rewarding decisions of my life, so my advice to others would be to embrace new opportunities and focus on all the doors it could open for you.”


With apprenticeships available in 23 sectors and at four levels, there’s an apprenticeship out there that suits you. Discover a career you’ll love this Apprenticeship Week Wales by searching for current opportunities through the Apprenticeship Vacancy Service.


For more information about becoming an apprentice, visit www.gov.wales/apprenticeships-genius-decision or call 0800 028 4844.