Life begins at 47; AGE IS NO BARRIER TO NEW START.
EIGHT months ago, Ahmed Ghafry was out of work, living in his car and he was convinced he had no future whatsoever.
The father-of-four had left London for Andover in Hampshire to be near his children, who had moved there with their mum.
He said: "I initially got a job as a chef that came with accommodation, but when they laid off people last summer I lost not only my job but also the roof over my head.
"It was utterly terrible. One minute I was fine - the next I had nothing."
Despite having years of experience as a chef in corporate kitchens and canteens, any applications Ahmed sent off fell on deaf ears.
"I applied for dozens of jobs, but got nowhere. I was completely disheartened. It was one of the most difficult times of my life. I had no confidence and felt I was losing everything."
Even so Ahmed, 47, thought there had to be a way to boost his chances.
"I knew, for instance, that my computer skills needed major improvement and I wanted to brush up my basic numeracy and literacy skills," he said.
Ahmed talked to the staff at Jobcentre Plus, who put him in touch with learndirect, which helps train people in everything from basic maths and English to improving CVs, interview techniques and job-seeking skills.
Ahmed said: "Just seeing what they had to offer helped me see this hard time was a chance to better myself."
Even so, he was nervous at the thought of returning to "school".
"I didn't know what to expect and felt way out of my depth. Even so I pressed ahead and went for it," he said.
It didn't take long for Ahmed to realise everything would be all right. "It wasn't at all like school. I got a straightforward assessment. We decided that I needed to get to grips with computers and refresh my English and maths."
As he had nowhere to live, he used the PCs at a local centre to work through the modules he needed to complete, giving him somewhere to spend his days and to focus his mind away from his troubled life.
"The great thing is there was always someone there to help and guide me where I needed it," he says. "I could where I needed it, he says. I could rapidly feel my confidence coming back." The advisers also helped him tackle job applications and brush up his interview techniques.
Before long, Ahmed's boosted self-esteem shone through and within a matter of weeks he had a job as a chef at a local hotel, The Danebury.
"Thankfully the job came with accommodation so just before Christmas I was able to get out of my car. I have never felt so relieved in my life."
A bonus was that with his improved computer skills and the ability to keep on top of paperwork, Ahmed was able to take on a promotion as head chef.
"I can use the computers for ordering and keeping on top of the stock. It really was the best thing I ever did," he said.
"I beg people to think about doing the same - whatever age you are, if you get the time to go back to learning you will only do yourself some good. It's been a only do yoyu very emotional time for me, but now I can just get on with my career. My life is back on track. I have a sense of self-worth and my children are so proud of me. I'm even saving up for a laptop now so I can continue learning."
BOOST YOUR JOB CHANCES At learndirect (www.learndirect.co.uk) you will find most of the courses you need to "up-skill". Whether it's brushing up your basic maths and English or getting to grips with IT, you will find online and college courses.
Also check out www.direct.gov.uk and click on Education and Learning for information about increasing your employability whether you've already got a job or are still looking.
A particularly useful section covers the financial aid you may be eligible for, such as help with childcare, career development loans (from pounds 300 to pounds 10,000) and adult learning grants.
Many courses in literacy and numeracy are free and you may not have to pay for tuition if you're going for a first qualification equivalent to GCSEs or A-levels. If you are unemployed, you may also be eligible for free job-related training. Most online courses are free for everyone.
The best place to find a course near you is nationalcareersservice.direct.gov. uk, which has a full listing of what is available and advice on costs and what might be best for you.
You may also want to consider an apprenticeship. You can be any age to qualify, not just a school-leaver. For more visit www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
If you've been out of work for some time, Reed in Partnership (www.reedinpartnership.co.uk) and Working Links (www.workinglinks.co.uk) have a host of advisers on hand to help.
COOKING ZGOOD Ahmed is now ahead chef