He had been out of work for 16 years and had never used a computer.
But 40 years after leaving school, Kinlochleven man Eddie Mowles has been named the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Further Education Student of the Year.
Mr Mowles, 56, had been unemployed for 16 years when he started his learning journey with UHI West Highland College.
He had been attending a weekly job club at the Leven Centre in Kinlochleven and enrolled on a maritime and aquaculture course at the Mallaig learning centre with the aim of improving his life and his chances of employment.
Eddie said: “I am chuffed to bits. This is the first time I have won anything in my life. I had been working most of my life in London for 20-25 years doing demolition.”
He said it had turned him “from a rogue into a gentleman”.
When he moved back to Scotland and could not get a job, he set up home in Kinlochleven, but admits: “My life was a mess. I wasn’t sure where I was going.”
However, when he started his course at Mallaig a year ago his “life turned around”, adding: “From day one, the Mallaig staff sorted me out. I was very nervous and not sure what I was doing.
“I had never used a computer and was in a class of teenagers. I then met (course leader) Shaun and the rest is history.
“I have to say thank you to Shaun – without him I would never have got these awards. I now have the confidence to do things I never thought I could do. Mallaig is a special place.”
Eddie was nominated for the award by Shaun Escott, his skills course leader at UHI’s Mallaig Centre.
He said: “Before this course, Eddie felt he was going nowhere. He’d found himself in a lifestyle that he didn’t like anymore.
“However, what started off as small steps developed into a goal. Eddie would talk about an ‘ideal’ job and it was always something outdoors, so the team discussed college courses with him.
“After a few unsuccessful job applications, he decided the maritime and aquaculture skills course in Mallaig was for him.”
Shaun added: “This was a huge step for Eddie, having no relevant experience or qualifications. We worked with the employability team to get Eddie back into a classroom.
“He was very nervous about using a computer and terrified of being with more able students in a classroom environment. When he came to us, his confidence and motivation were at their lowest ebb.
“However, Eddie found the course gave him new purpose and direction. He never looked back and never missed a class.
“His attitude began to change and he began to take better care of himself. Even more impressively, he adapted to the classroom environment and, when presented with challenges he found difficult, he rose to them.
“He found he had skills the rest of the class didn’t and thrived in helping younger students. His work ethic, attendance, good communication and involvement of others, inspired them.
“At his final review, Eddie only had one thing to say, ‘I came here a rogue and I am leaving a gentleman.’”
Shaun said everyone at the college was proud of Eddie, adding: “He demonstrated tremendous determination and used his college experience to turn his life around completely.”
Eddie successfully completed the maritime and aquaculture skills course earlier this year and gained work experience in the aquaculture industry with a short employment contract.
He has decided to continue his studies at the Mallaig Centre, having enrolled on a shipping and operations course.
As the West Highland College UHI and the University of the Highlands and Islands Further Education Student of the Year, he will receive £300 and a certificate.