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Star jobfinder who beat the benefit trap

Scotland's "champion learner of the year" deserves an award for persistence as well as learning.

When single parent Sharon McDade asked her local Citizens Advice Bureau about finding a full-time job she was told to "stay on benefits" because it would not be in her interests to go to work.

Undeterred, the part-time barmaid, who had formerly been in an abusive relationship, enrolled in maths, electronics and computing courses at Fife Women's Technology Centre in Dunfermline, followed by an HND course in computer support at Fife College.

Four years later the 30-year-old is off benefit and employed in the IT department of a local construction company. She is now the proud recipient of double awards - not only is she a learning champion but she has also been crowned "jobfinder of the year".

Speaking to The TES Scotland, she displayed the determination and commitment that brought her success: "The advice I got made me realise that if anything was to change I had to make it happen myself. I felt there was more to life than pulling pints."

She finds it strange that she now finds herself portrayed as a role model when she returns to the women's centre to encourage others with her proven philosophy: "Don't ever think that you can't achieve. Take the opportunity and, even if you think something is not for you, go for it."

Christine Lenihan, who chairs Learndirect Scotland, said champion learners were those "who provide vital inspiration that will hopefully encourage more Scots to give learning a go".

Sharon McDade can look to the future with considerably more optimism than might have been expected four years ago, once she has shown her silver quaich and crystal trophy to her grandad and decided (with five-year-old son Lewis) where to display them in her living room. "Whatever happens, I have more confidence in my ability to achieve."

She received her award from Lewis Macdonald, Deputy Minister for Lifelong Learning, at the first ceremony of its kind, which Learndirect Scotland aims to make an annual event.

Mr Macdonald set the 80 award-winners another challenge, to go out and recruit more learners - and make yet another contribution to lifelong learning.

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