FROM PARENTS' GUIDE: AN INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING MAGAZINE

Skills: Computers are your key to a better future

Computer courses can help you make an impression whatever your age, says Megan Haddow

You can't escape them: computers are becoming integral to everyday life and it is increasingly necessary to know how to use one. This is where computer courses can help you and your family.

If your son or daughter is interested in computers, university courses are not the only route to a career in IT. Computer courses can also set your child on the right career path and much of the studying can be done from home, with flexible hours and at a much cheaper cost than university.

Companies such as Computeach ( www.computeach.co.uk) have a range of courses and they'll even assess your child before they apply to tell them which course is best suited. These courses can lead to careers in system design and development, databases and programming, which can command salaries of up to £55,000. Courses are designed for people from all backgrounds, with various levels of experience and qualifications, and they consist of both self-study and classes with tutorial assistance.

Alternatively, there are many courses which are conducted entirely online. Websites like www.career-in-it.co.uk can provide online courses supervised by Microsoft Certified Trainers. Through courses like these your son or daughter could not only gain a recognised qualification - with all exams and retakes paid for - but also a job, as 97 per cent of students on these courses are offered employment at the end.

Exciting and original careers in the industry include game developer, game tester, website designer and IT technician. There are many other options too and they don't have to be directly IT-related. Computer skills can help in most jobs and often give you the edge over other candidates to prospective employers.

Of course, if your child is going to university or college to study a different subject and simply wants to brush up on their computer skills, there are normally courses available at individual universities. Most will offer training in how to use their own PC systems and many will give training for basic computer skills.

Computer courses can be found in most areas and appeal to people with various levels of ability. Most will take on students even if they do not have any previous qualifications. So, if your daughter or son is interested in IT but doesn't fancy three years of university, a course in computing could be an invaluable investment.

There are also a wide range of courses designed specifically to train adults how to use computers. From beginner classes helping you grasp a basic knowledge, to advanced classes teaching you how to improve your skills further, there are plenty of programmes to choose from.

There will probably be several different computer classes available in your local area, so it's worth doing some research. Classes are usually held in local libraries or other public buildings and are aimed at a variety of ages and abilities. There are often courses available in both the day and evening.

Gaining basic or intermediate computer skills will not only help you at home and in daily life, but it could also help you in your job and it will certainly give you a new and transferable skill.

Fred Llewellyn, 68, from Brighton, is retired and is a testament to the success of computer courses. He says: "I had no previous experience with computers, but I wanted to learn the basics. I went to a club and had lessons for about nine months. I read books and magazines to help and I picked it up so quickly that I began to teach people on the course myself.

"A few years on and I can even build computers from scratch. I think the ability to use a computer is a vital skill whatever age you are and I would urge people to learn. On the course there were students aged from 30 to 92. The trick is not to try too much, so start by learning how to use the internet and e-mail and then take it from there. The main skills that will be necessary for the future are learning how to use the internet and e-mail, but also digital photography, which is rising in popularity and use."

If your child has left home then now could be a great time to start learning a new skill, especially one that can help you stay in touch with them. Or, perhaps more importantly, a skill that can help you book that dream holiday abroad!

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