How do you spend your Thursday evenings? Squandering cash down the pub or learning a brand new skill, like Mandarin or stand-up comedy?
The concept of an evening course may sound a little smug but there's no denying the benefits that come with a spot of extracurricular learning. Not only will it provide the "skills and interests" area of your CV with a much-needed facelift, you'll also end up feeling more fulfilled, knowledgeable and secure in your own talents.
"Learning a new skill is a real confidence boast," says Jade O'Donoghue, editor of hotcourses.com, the UK's largest course directory. "Yes, it makes you a more interesting and well-rounded person in terms of your CV but it also reinforces your self-belief. Even if you're doing something quite small and trivial like making a tote bag, you think to yourself 'Yes, I can do this.' There's a real sense of achievement."
And there's no need to be put off by the idea of going back to the classroom, either. "A lot of people find the idea of an evening class quite daunting," says O'Donoghue. "But these sessions are really open and encouraging. Everyone's chosen to be there and wants to learn so there's a mutually supportive and sociable atmosphere - it's nothing like school."
The quality of online courses has also burgeoned in recent years, with interactive sessions, YouTube seminars and the ability to chat to other students making them a much more viable prospect - to be used in conjunction with, or as an extension of, evening tutorials.
And of course, there's always the option to forge a whole new career or business idea on the back of the course you choose. Not to mention the fact that a wider skill set will help you stand out in an increasingly tough and competitive marketplace.
"In order to keep current with changing business trends, learning has to be a part of the equation," says business learning expert Dr. Ann Gatty. "Learning is important to keep your skill sets updated and marketable if you are looking to change jobs."
"Going back to school to continue your education or earn additional credentials allows you change the course of your life in more ways than one," agrees careers expert April Davis. "When you gain new knowledge and enhance your skills, you’re provided with many more opportunities and see that more roads are open to you."
So whether you're stuck in a work rut or simply fancy something new, come check out our top evening courses to enroll in this autumn.
To quote Dr. Seuss, "The more that you learn, the more places you'll go..."
Learning another language is a great way of broadening your horizons, both personally and professionally. Want to fulfill that ambition of backpacking round South America for six months? Get enrolling on a Spanish course. Fancy taking a six month sabbatical in Hanoi? Take a TEFL qualification and you can fund your stay with English teaching.
Most importantly, the ability to speak more than one language is massively desirable in today's rapidly expanding world of global conglomerates.
"International businesses prefer to hire people who speak more than one language," says Debra Wheatman, chief strategist at Careers Done Write.
"Opportunities abroad will continue to grow. Being able to communicate in another language will make you more marketable with companies doing business internationally, and knowing one or more foreign languages may give you an edge when competing for an important position."
There's no shortage of choice, either; the UK has a veritable plethora of language courses to choose from, from Japanese to Polish, Swahili and Arabic.
Here's a taster of just a few of the options out there:
- Introduction to Chinese at Soas University, London, £299 for 20 hours' tuition
- Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course, Cactus school, Sheffield, £1,145 for 186 hours' tuition
- Beginners' Italian with Bristol City Council, Bristol, £180 for 30 hours' tuition
- Beginners course in Arabic at Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, £270 for 52 hours' tuition
Unleash your creativity by learning something completely different. Whether it's magician skills or knicker embroidery, courses like these are a great way of de-stressing after a hard day in the office. They also nudge you towards using your imagination and initiative in a way that you might not do in your day-to-day work.
"We work in a business environment where our ability to compete will depend on our ability to innovate," says Tony Crabbe , a business psychologist at Birkbeck College London.
"The problem for many of us is that at work we are surrounded by the similar. We work in organisations with people who think similarly about similar problems, and come up with similar solutions.
"In a world where innovation is critical, and we are all busy, it is too easy to reach repeatedly for the similar. [But] if we allow our inboxes to squeeze out all our exploration time, we are killing our creative capacity, one email at a time. If we want to become more innovative, we have to get outside more; to meet different people with different perspectives."
These creative courses will help take you out of your comfort zone, meet new people and think about things in a different way:
- Mosaic making and colour composition, Southbank Mosaics, London, £150 for 12 hours' tuition
- Work, write, live: introduction to creative writing at University of Brighton, £225 for 20 hours' tuition
- Beginners' course in millinery, Glasgow Clyde college, Glasgow, £300 for 72 hours' tuition
- Scripting a television drama, Cardiff Centre for Lifelong Learning, Cardiff, £147 for 20 hours' tuition
From public speaking to powers of pitching and persuasion, the ability to perform and communicate is one of the key components of business success, especially if you want to rise up quickly through the ranks.
And it's sometimes beneficial to take a left-field approach when learning skills like these.
"An evening course like stand-up comedy can be great in terms of growing confidence and communication ability," says O'Donoghue of hotcourses.com. "In a group situation, everyone's really encouraging and it's often more of a fun, light-hearted environment than a corporate public speaking course that your work might send you on."
Being able to perform - to get your message across, think on your feet and act spontaneously - is a quality that will help you thrive in your job, no matter it is.
Here are a few ways to tap into your inner exhibitionist:
- Working with puppets and masks, City Lit, London, £223 for 30 hours' tuition
- Drama for beginners, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow, £195 for 26 hours' tuition
- African drumming evening course, Unbeatable Energy, Sheffield, £70 for 15 hours' tuition
- Circus Arts Equilibristics 1, National Centre for Circus Arts, London, £234 for 24 hours' tuition
This school of skills will enhance all areas of your life, whether it's a DIY home renovation project or building a business website.
But more important than the skills you learn is the confidence boast that mastering them gives you.
"Learning new information and improving skill sets always keeps a person fresh and current," says business learning expert Dr. Ann Gatty. "Keeping abreast of changing ideas and new innovations allows you to stay in the forefront of organizational change."
Even if you don't use the skill you learn immediately, it may come in useful in a careers context at a later date or form an important part of your transferable abilities (open-mindedness, the ability to listen and absorb information etc).
"Some of our acquired knowledge may lay dormant in a life chapter or two, only to become relevant again in some later situation," says Dr. Getty.
Come take a look at our pick of a few great practical skills to learn:
- Basic woodwork - carpentry for beginners, The Good Life Centre, London, £695 for 30 hours' tuition
- Web design and web authoring, City of Glasgow college, Glasgow, £125 for 30 weeks' tuition
- Diploma in painting and decorating, Walsall College, near Birmingham, £695 for a year-long evening course
- Organic and allotment gardening, City of Bristol college, Bristol, £260 for 40 hours' tuition
Career change and self-employment skills
Last but not least, embarking on an evening course can be a stepping stone to a whole new career. If you fancy bringing about a radical change of profession, it's a good idea to trial out your area of interest with a course first (e.g. child psychology, introduction to law). Or if you want to jump straight in with a qualification, an evening course will allow you to take it more slowly and continue making money during the day.
Depending on what you want to do, these courses may take the form of an academic certificate, or something related to running your own business - such as accountancy, marketing or website coding.
And even if you don't end up with the dramatic career manoeuvre you envisaged, the process of learning will be useful to engendering change in a long-term context.
"Learning is a lifelong endeavour," says Dr. Getty. "Many women talk of re-inventing themselves over the course of their lifetimes for personal and/or professional reasons. Being adept at lifelong learning helps make the process more fruitful and the results more rewarding.
Here are a few ideas for courses that will help you change your career and/or set up your own business:
- Social media marketing, London College of Communication, London, £425 for 12.5 hours' tuition
- Introductory certificate in counselling, Newman University, Birmingham, £980 for 30 hours' tuition
- How to start up a successful food business, Leith's School of Food and Wine, London, £340 for 10 hours' tuition
- Introduction to interior design, Arts University Bournemouth, £219 for 30 hours' tuition
Photos: Getty Images and Rex Features