Throughout our years at school there are always subjects that seem to carry more importance than others. To be good at Art or P.E. can sometimes seem like a luxury skill or speciality; to focus on History or Geography, Spanish or French is often a decision which has to be made. But no matter what path of study we intend to go down, or what our ambitions are in life, Maths and English are always highlighted as a necessity, and as we move on, they never lose their value as ‘essential skills’.

Now, computer skills are just as prevalent. They hold the power to enhance and amplify our qualifications, or leave a gaping hole in our CV. Outside of education and the working world they are just as important. Computers are part of everything we do. We use them constantly, whether it’s checking the weather, the football scores or the best holiday destinations, As far back as 2012, then culture minister, Ed Vaizey said the British public must start to place as high a value on their computer skills as they do on their ability to string a sentence together.

Whether you're looking for a way to challenge yourself and do something new, or simply want to make your everyday life that little bit easier and more enjoyable, essential skills could be an option for you.

As such, the necessity of all these skills, and the advantages to be gained by having them cover nearly ever avenue of life. People can use essential skills courses simply as a way to improve their ability to engage with people and improve their self confidence, or seek them as a way to open career paths, get a new job or qualify for a promotion. They can help you take a more hands on approach when helping with your children’s homework, or start you on a journey into further education of your own. It can help you move forward with business ambitions, or simply allow you to handle your personal finances better and have a better grasp of the internet and email.

Despite this, people often feel that there is a stigma around learning these skills, which we associate with secondary school, at a later age. But while this stereotype is unhelpful, the old adage that it's never too late to learn is not. For those who left education early, and now want to explore the opportunities they feel they may have missed, essential skills offer this possibility; while for those who have GCSE English and Maths, but have perhaps been out of work or education for a number of years, Essential skills are an excellent refresher for everyday life.

Essential Skills at South West College

Essential Skills at South West College are free courses to improve your communication skills, mathematics skills and technology skills. This involves improving listening, reading and writing skills, working with numbers and using computers. Classes are generally small and informal to ensure everyone is at ease within a new learning environment and enable you to work at your own pace.

One student who has benefited from this is Michelle Cowan, who won the Fermanagh and Overall N.I Essential Skills Award in 2014, despite leaving school at 15 without any qualifications due to a severe illness, myalgic encephalomyelitis. Michelle was bed bound for twelve years, her mother taught her to spell and count again, as her memory from before her illness completely disappeared. Michelle wanted to gain qualifications and with help through the CEDAR Foundation she went back to study at South West College when she was thirty; she completed her essential skills course and went on to achieve a distinction in Social Science Access Diploma and is now studying towards a Foundation Degree.

After completing the essential skills Michelle commented “I have re-established goals, boosted my confidence and broadened my horizons; now with the help I have received and the opportunities I have discovered, I know that I can do even more.”

Essential skills are open to anyone over the age of sixteen, and can be truly life changing. They have helped people read a newspaper for the first time, fill in job applications, and enabled parents to help their children with their homework. Furthermore, Essential Skills is recognised by all businesses, so having this qualification will make you more employable. So whether you're looking for a way to challenge yourself and do something new, or simply want to make your everyday life that little bit easier and more enjoyable, essential skills could be an option for you.

If you're interested in Essential Skills, you can find out more on the South West College website.