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Skills classes were ‘one of the best decisions of my adult life’

By Kathryn Torney

People across Northern Ireland shared inspirational stories of how their lives have changed after attending classes to improve their reading, maths and computer skills during a prestigious award ceremony at Hillsborough Castle.

Ballymena man Alastair McCormick clinched the prestigious title of Northern Ireland Essential Skills Learner of the Year for 2010 at the Department for Employment and Learning's annual Essential Skills Awards yesterday.

Entries from across the province included a young man who only learned to read at the age of 18, others who secured jobs or promotion after improving their skills and parents delighted to now be able to help their children with their homework. Many had no formal qualifications before embarking on one of the essential skills courses on offer across Northern Ireland.

This is the third year of the awards, which are designed to recognise and celebrate outstanding achievement in literacy, numeracy and ICT learning.

Details were announced yesterday of the six regional award winners, 17 highly commended entries, an ICT award, a Trade Union award and the overall winner.

In addition to being named overall winner, Alastair was also named Essential Skills Trade Union Learner of the Year.

Alastair, who works for Dale Farm in Ballymena, achieved an Essential Skills ICT Level 2 qualification at North West Regional College.

His new-found skills have enabled him to incorporate ITC into his working day, from planning work rotas to managing financial applications and he now embraces computer tasks which would once have appeared daunting.

Alastair said in his award submission: “My wife needed IT skills to ensure she retained her job during redundancies and she was terrified. Against all my better judgements, I agreed to attend a course with her. It has been one of the best decisions of my adult life.

“There is now a whole new world available to me and I can’t believe I’ve got an actual real life qualification. My wife and I even email each other now... from the same room!

“Starting in September I will be attending a maths course with intentions to complete the trio with English. My wife is being trailed along to these too.”

Alan Shannon, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Employment and Learning, said: “We have always known the benefits of Essential Skills learning for increasing an individual’s job prospects or personal development but we can now include the opportunity to progress to third level education thanks to the recognition of the qualifications by both Queen’s and University of Ulster.”

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