Opportunities for learners at all levels to enhance their skills or develop new ones are available in the home, the workplace or at learndirect's 2,000 plus centres around the country. Andrew Mourant explains how you can get involved
A free phone call or a few clicks of the mouse can change your life.
Connecting to learndirect is as easy as that. The telephone number is 08000 101 901. Lines are open 7am-11pm daily and lead to any one of more than 2,000 learndirect centres.
They are on the high street, in leisure and community centres, colleges, sports clubs, churches and libraries - even in railway stations. Some have cafes, childcare facilities and social areas.
You can choose a time and place to learn that suits you, and you can work through any course at home. If you have internet access, see www.learndirect.co.uk and you will open up a new world of learning with some 750 courses for individuals and companies.
Are you terrified of computers? IT phobia is something learndirect - the largest e-learning network in the UK - aims to rectify. In fact, 80 per cent of its courses are online, from customer care to numeracy to business and management. If you think you might struggle - helpful staff are on hand at every centre.
Courses are broken down into chunks that can fit around other demands and allow learning to take place at an individual's own pace. You can learn at work, or wherever there is access to the internet. You can now enrol on courses on the learndirect website.
Learndirect covers five areas: Skills for Life; Using IT; IT Professional; General Business and Management; and Industry Specific Business and Management.
There are introductory courses as well as tasters, and many can help towards achieving nationally recognised qualifications.
Some learndirect courses are government-funded and many are free, including all those that help with the basics of reading, writing and numbers. The rest are competitively priced. Precise information about cost will be available at your local centre.
If you do not feel that there is a place for you but want to know what else is available locally, or if you need careers advice, learndirect's National Learning Advice Line has details on more than half a million courses run by colleges, training centres, voluntary organisations and universities. Call free on 0800 100 900 (8am-10pm seven days a week or see www.learndirect-advice.co.uk).
Learndirect has helped more than 5 million people find the right course.
Advisers offer career guidance and information on childcare and financial support.
For anyone thinking about developing their career or choosing a new one, "learndirect futures" is an internet package providing advice and options - from building job skills to writing a CV. To discover what it's all about, see www.learndirect-futures.co.uk.
Learndirect also has much to offer business. Many owner-managers find that conventional training is not tailored to their needs - courses are sometimes irrelevant or run at inconvenient times and locations. But online training can help people to fit courses around their lives at home and work.
Flexible online courses are designed especially for small businesses. These include areas such as "Creating a customer-focused team" and "Finance for non-financial managers" through to word processing using Microsoft Word 2000. Information and a free guide is obtainable through the free Employer Helpline on 08000 150 750 or the website at www.learndirect-business.co.uk The scope of Improving Your Business Skills includes a "personal development toolkit" that covers time management, working in teams, decision-making and problem solving. A communication skills element tackles written and verbal capabilities, while "Leadership Skills" covers objective-setting, delegation and team building - areas that will be helpful to management newcomers.
For information on how learndirect can help your business, call free on 08000 150 750.
Are you still fearful of IT? Then surf.direct is a friendly introduction to using computers and the internet. Keyboard Skills A-Z is a typing skills course to teach correct finger placement in just 90 minutes. Introducing Computers is just as it sounds - an in-depth introduction to what they are and how they work. Free help is available on the 24-hour learner services helpline 08000 150 140. You can also write to Learner Services, PO Box 900, Leicester, LE1 6LR.
Learndirect works alongside various other agencies, including * The Learning and Skills Council. This provides funding and monitors local provision in England. Education and Learning Wales (ELWa) does the same for Wales and the Department for Education and Learning for Northern Ireland.
* The Federation of Small Businesses works in partnership to reach the small business market.
* The Association of Colleges has worked with learndirect from the start to develop effective communication with colleges and access to small business.
* The Confederation of British Industry works with learndirect to tackle basic skills and support small to medium-sized businesses.
* Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit. This organisation's joint work with learndirect is helping to improve numeracy and literacy.
* The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education also works jointly with learndirect to promote adult learning.
* The BBC is also involved in joint work to develop content, and learndirect provides a helpline service for them.