The group – made up of representatives from education, business, and young people – will help to increase engagement with our development programmes among underrepresented groups, enabling us to reach young people from all backgrounds and give them the best start in work and life.

Members will help us to address and remove barriers and challenges identified through the research, which prevent young people from accessing our development programmes.

Young person competing in IT support Technician competition

Key priorities of the group

two girls at worldskills uk live

Engaging young people and enabling equity

young person public speaking

Growing awareness of the group’s mission and engaging more partners to drive positive change

Young person competing in Sheet Metalwork competition

Raising awareness, knowledge and understanding of good equity, diversity and inclusion practices

The group's members are

Ben Blackledge

Photo of Ben Blackledge

Ben brings a wealth of experience to his role, having worked in senior policy positions in government before joining WorldSkills UK in 2014 and becoming Deputy Chief Executive in 2019. Following the departure of Dr Neil Bentley Gockmann OBE in May 2023, Ben acted as Interim CEO until 10 July when he was appointed as the new permanent CEO of WorldSkills UK. He combines a deep understanding of the UK and International skills landscape and its importance to UK competitiveness with a commitment to ensuring that young people have access to the best possible opportunities to develop their skills and reach their full potential.

Emma Roberts

Emma leads on championing future skills needs in the UK, ensuring that WorldSkills UK is actively engaged in the discussions, and providing unique insights into how the organisation and sector can help meet these needs. She is also responsible for using diagnostic research and insights along with impactful strategic partnerships to increase the profile of our work and drive change in our programmes to ensure they are fit for purpose.

Clare Howard

With 25 years’ experience in the public, private and voluntary sectors, Clare became chief executive of Natspec in January 2016. Clare worked at the Association of Colleges for six years and her career has included posts in local authorities, funding agencies, schools and colleges. As a consultant in the 2000s, Clare worked on more than 200 projects and took interim posts across the education, sport and health sectors, developing a passion for further education and a particular interest in services and education for people with learning difficulties and disabilities. She has worked with special schools, specialist colleges and national disability organisations and her expertise includes organisational development, funding bids, training, change management and governance projects.

Mandy-Jayne Evans

Sai Putravu

Sai is an accomplished Computer Science student at the University of Manchester and a WorldSkills Team UK competitor who achieved a Medallion of Excellence. Currently employed in the industry, he showcases innovative thinking and problem-solving skills that make him a valuable asset. Committed to diversity and inclusion, Sai actively engages in initiatives to provide equal access to opportunities for underrepresented groups. His journey inspires aspiring minds to pursue their passions and excel in the ever-evolving world of technology and beyond.

Marion Plant

Photo of Marion Plant

Marion Plant is Principal and Chief Executive of North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College (NWSLC) and Chief Executive of the Midland Academies Trust which is responsible for secondary schools.  Marion also previously served a 3-year term as a non-executive director at the Department for Education.  In 2018 Marion was awarded the ‘Business Woman of the Year Award’ by the East Midlands Chamber of Commerce and in September 2019 was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Leicestershire Live Women in Business Awards, devised to celebrate the outstanding achievements of female professionals in the region.  Marion was also granted ‘Highly Commended’ in the Pearson National Teaching Awards ‘Lifetime Achievement’ category in 2022.

She serves on several national/ regional bodies including:

·        Chair and Trustee of WorldSkills UK

·        Member of Coventry and Warwickshire Skills Advisory Panel

·        Vice Chair of the Nuneaton Towns’ Fund Board

·        Trustee of the National Society Council (Church of England)

·        Member of the AoC’s Portfolio Group for Climate Change

John Sweeney O’Hara

SNR Learner Engagement Officer – New College Lanarkshire. WorldSkills UK Gold Medallist London 2011 (Advanced Hairdressing). Judge Team selection 2017, Judge AHT (Association of Hairdressers and Therapists).

I have a keen interest in EDI and access to competitions for underrepresented groups.

Jeff Greenidge

Paul Eeles

Paul has over 33 years’ experience in the post-16 skills sector, including seven years as a lecturer and 13 years leading work-based learning within colleges and independent providers. During that time, he has set up and led an independent apprenticeship training provider business.  For the past nearly two decades, he has been on the senior teams of all the key membership bodies across the further education and skills sector, representing apprenticeship providers and colleges, to government and their agencies. More recently, along with being the CEO of Skills and Education Group, he has been on the board of and chaired the body representing awarding organisations across the UK, the Federation of Awarding Bodies.   Paul is also a member of the Boards of the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII), Helena Kennedy Foundation (HKF) and recently joined the board of the safeguarding Charity thirtyone:eight.

Mandy Crawford-Lee

Dr Mandy Crawford-Lee has over 30 years’ experience of leading and negotiating skills policy, strategic planning and performance management in economic development, vocational education and training reform. She is a sound and respected resource for those involved in the development and delivery of apprenticeships at the higher level having led national policy, managed the Coalition Government’s successful Higher Apprenticeship Fund and revised the Specification of Apprenticeship Standard in England (SASE) leading to the opening up of pathways in higher level learning for apprentices beyond Level 3 and into a work-based route through to professional, senior technical and managerial occupations and, where appropriate, professional accreditation.

Joanna Hollingdale

A qualified careers practitioner with experience in multi-agency working in both commercial and educational settings. Reliable and flexible individual who is willing and keen to learn new skills and take on new challenges. Highly practical with the ability to organise information, make decisions and plan a strategy for the desired outcome. Experience of leading projects as well as being a productive member of the team. In addition to this being creative and tenacious.

Rachel Jagger-Thomas

With over 25 years of professional experience working in HR project delivery both in the UK and internationally and as an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion lead and Advisor , Rachel has worked with organisations across the public and private sector during her career.  Since 2010, she has focussed specifically on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Higher and Further Education; and is passionate about seeking to support and address challenges in relation to increasing the positive engagement, voice and visibility  and equitable experience of underrepresented learners in education and industry.   Creative, and a passionate advocate for dignity, respect and inclusion, she works to use her understanding and knowledge of operational and business reality to encourage positive and sustainable change.

Practical and pragmatic, she believes in the importance of putting theory into practice through collaboration and voluntary activities; as such, she has co- chaired and supports women’s networks, volunteered with Advance HE as an Athena SWAN national panellist and advisor assessing gender equality strategies for universities, and is currently an active Organisational Patron representative for the UK Multicultural Apprentice Alliance for JTL.

Rachel joined JTL , the largest national training provider for electrotechnical and plumbing and heating apprenticeships in England and Wales, in 2019, as Diversity, Safeguarding and Inclusion Advisor where she works to support and encourage change in the building services engineering services sector of intermediate level apprentices and their employers.

I have seen first-hand how WorldSkills UK’s development programmes have transformed the technical skills and confidence of young people, which is why at NWSLC we encourage as many of our students to take part as possible. I’m excited to be working together with others across the sector, with the joint mission of reaching more young people from all backgrounds and helping to give them the skills needed to create stronger and brighter futures.

Marion Plant, Deputy Chair, WorldSkills UK, and CEO, North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College

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