Role of the Senior Leadership Team

The SLT acts as WorldSkills UK’s most senior decision-making and advisory group reporting to the CEO in achieving the strategies, aims and objectives of the Board of Trustees as delegated to the CEO including:

  • development and implementation of strategy, operational plans, policies and budgets

  • achievement of agreed operating and financial performance targets and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

  • assessment and treatment of risk

  • prioritisation and allocation of WorldSkills UK’s resources

  • organisational leadership and management


Ben Blackledge

Photo of Ben Blackledge

Role at WorldSkills UK

Ben is responsible for driving forward  all WorldSkills UK’s activities. He works closely with the WorldSkills UK Board and the organisation’s key stakeholders in government, business and education both in the UK and internationally. Through his leadership, WorldSkills UK delivers its strategic goals by continuing to raise standards in skills and technical education, attract inward investment and drive economic growth across the UK.

Background and experience

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.

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.

An independent member of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s (IFATE’s) Assessment Panel. He also sits on the WorldSkills International Competition Working Group and is part of the Board of WorldSkills Europe, ensuring the UK is at the forefront of global developments in skills training.

Mark Smallman

Photo of Mark Smallman

Role at WorldSkills UK

Mark leads on the delivery of all WorldSkills UK event and careers activity. This critical role involves overseeing the WorldSkills UK National Competition Programme and Finals, careers advocacy and the development of new careers products.  He is also responsible for overseeing WorldSkills UK’s data practices and is the executive sponsor for wellbeing.

Background and experience

Mark joined WorldSkills UK in November 2010 and delivered WorldSkills London, in 2011. Hosting the global ‘skills olympics’ was a significant milestone for the organisation. Taking place in the O2 Arena and ExCel London, the event welcomed over 3.000 international delegates from more than 50 countries, and more than 250,000 visitors. Prior to joining the team Mark had an impressive track record of delivering conferences, exhibitions, roadshows and live entertainment throughout the UK and Europe for various corporate clients.

Parisa Shirazi

Role at WorldSkills UK:

Parisa is responsible for leading WorldSkills UK’s programme of work both in the UK and internationally. In partnership with representatives from government, industry, and education, she leads the UK-wide initiative to raise standards through international benchmarking and professional development; to support institutions in the UK access the expertise from our international networks, global best practice, insights, and techniques that improve the quality of teaching, learning and assessment.

Background and experience:

Parisa brings over 20 years’ experience where she has held senior roles in Government, Further Education and not-for-profit organisations implementing apprenticeship and technical education policy. Parisa joined WorldSkills UK in 2014, leading the national and international competition programmes and most recently the award-winning WorldSkills UK Centre of Excellence.

Emma Roberts

Role at WorldSkills UK:

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.

Background and experience:

Emma joined WorldSkills UK in 2018 to lead the organisation’s thought leadership programme, ensuring the insights from competition-based skills programmes and international benchmarking could be shared to inform skills policy and practice across the UK. Before that Emma worked at the CBI as Chief of Staff and across a range of policy teams and prior to that in the policy development team at Universities UK.

Nils Kendall

Role at WorldSkills UK

As Chief of Staff and Company Secretary, Nils is responsible for ensuring the successful running of WorldSkills UK as an independent charity and company limited by guarantee, working closely with the Board and CEO to ensure WorldSkills UK’s governance is effective and supported. Nils directly supports the CEO in the overall running of WorldSkills UK overseeing the design, implementation and review of systems and processes to ensure the effective running of the organisation. Nils also leads the people function including resourcing, staff development and wellbeing as well as the provision of high-quality corporate services including ICT management and internal communications that contribute to overall organisational performance and development.

Background and experience

Nils joined WorldSkills UK in 2019, having worked in the not-for-profit and charity sector for over 20 years where he has held several senior management and executive positions focused on people management, internal communications, corporate governance and c-suite executive support. Nils is committed to inclusion at work in particular in relation to disability, having previously been an Executive Director at Business Disability Forum for over 15 years and latterly its Interim CEO.

Francis Chiwariro

Role at WorldSkills UK

Francis is responsible for ensuring effective strategic and operational financial planning, monitoring and reporting in a way that enhances the organisation’s decision-making processes whilst meeting its legal financial obligations to trustees, funders and stakeholders. Francis also oversees the delivery of high-quality evaluation, data insights and robust procurement processes, ensuring that funding is utilised to achieve value for money in an efficient, effective and impactful way.

Background and experience

Francis joined WorldSkills UK in 2023, he has previously held senior finance roles in higher education, healthcare and international development sectors. His finance career has seen him work with and contribute to the leadership of organisations which make a positive difference to people’s lives. He holds trustee roles in the not-for-profit sector and is passionate about education and equality. Francis is a member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

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