IT WAS February 1974 when I first stood election in Arfon. I was “on the knocker” in the former slate-quarrying village of Fron. As I canvassed an elderly lady, I noticed behind her, photos of three young people, brandishing university degrees.

“Your children?” I asked. She beamed, telling me that they’d done well; they were working in England and America – all in good jobs. “But I do miss them,” she poignantly added.

That’s the story throughout Wales’ old industrial areas. It touched a nerve: my first job was with Ford in Dagenham, followed by Mars at Slough. Such experience, luckily, helped me return to Wales, working with Hoover at Merthyr Tydfil.

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Three hundred of my fellow students at Manchester University were from Wales. I doubt if a handful ever worked in Wales. Three close friends, fellow Welsh students, secured jobs in America – and stayed there. I wondered, even then, why no system existed to help young people find work in Wales.

So Theo Davies-Lewis’ article last week, on reversing Wales’ 'brain drain', touched a nerve - as did recent comments by Mark Drakeford and economy minister Vaughan Gething.

I raised this subject many times as MP. The Welsh Development Agency (WDA) encouraged a pilot Llwybro (pathway) scheme in west Wales; but apparently, it didn’t survive the WDA’s demise.

In recent years, Global-Welsh, sponsored by the Welsh Government, established links with successful Welsh executives overseas.

I believe, however, we need a more fundamental approach than solely seeking out high flyers in top jobs abroad; or indeed, restricted to university graduates. Budding entrepreneurs and skilled technicians don’t necessarily attend university.

We should establish, with the cooperation of teachers, a contact system for every school leaver in Wales - a national citizen’s register and contactable by e-mail, anywhere in the world. This could be topped up with all others who attend Welsh universities and colleges.

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Such a system could inform people of job opportunities in Wales. Individuals could receive information relevant to their needs. This would also be a tremendous resource for employers seeking key workers. Those who wished to opt out – for whatever reason – could, of course, do so.

In my parliamentary work, before lockdown, I researched 'diaspora tracking' schemes operated by Ireland, Latvia and New Zealand; all small countries, who – like Wales – can ill-afford to lose young talent.

The Latvian scheme, operated by a handful of staff, succeeded in bringing many key workers back home.

People are Wales’ greatest resource. A minority may never want to return to Wales – but it is surely our government’s duty to help them return if they so wish.

The sentiments of my constituent in 1974 were felt by many households in Wales during the pandemic lockdown: a yearning that their offspring were closer to home. Answering this aspiration is a worthy aim of our own government – a facility we didn’t have back then.

To adapt Shakespeare’s words, such a system is twice-blessed: “It blesseth those who leave and those who stay.”

It’s surely time to turn the words of “We’ll keep a welcome” into reality. Please, First Minister, make it happen!

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