In partnership with Airbus, WorldSkills UK are hosting an event at this year’s Conservative Party Conference. Panellists will explore the importance of world-class skills to HM Government’s ambition for growth in high-potential sectors, including advanced manufacturing, clean energy and the creative industries.

Join the discussion on how technical education can support economic competitiveness and deliver good jobs and prosperity in every part of the country.

Attendees will:

  • Discuss the Conservative Party’s plans for skills ahead of the next general election
  • Explore skills demand in industries that can power the UK’s economic performance
  • Promote the importance of raising the value and prestige of technical education and building parity of esteem between world-class skills and world-class degrees  

Meet the speakers

Ben Blackledge

WorldSkills UK CEO

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.

Oriel Petry

SVP Head of Public Affairs UK, Airbus

Oriel is the SVP Head of Public Affairs UK at Airbus. She has previously worked as the Director for UK Trade and Investment (now Department for International Trade) France at the British Embassy in Paris from August 2015 to August 2019. Prior to this role, she has had a varied career across Whitehall as a British civil servant.

Sander Kristel

Interim Chief Executive, UCAS

Sander Kristel joined UCAS Media in February 2018, before taking up the role of Chief Operations Officer in May 2020, and most recently Interim Chief Executive in September 2023. He has a diverse background in banking, the hospitality industry, and in one of the largest education providers in his native Netherlands.

He has previously worked for the internet provider Freeserve, before moving into the public sector. Prior to starting in UCAS Media, he was the Director of Adult Services at Worcestershire County Council, where he led 1,500 staff, and managed a budget of £184m. Before that, he worked for the Council as their Director of Commercial and Change, leading on large contracts, transformation, marketing, and other services. Sander’s previous roles have included digital, technology, transformation, and commercial.

Mark Lehain

Head of Education, Centre for Policy Studies

Mark is Head of Education at the CPS. Prior to this he was a Special Adviser at the Department for Education. A third-generation teacher, Mark taught maths in secondary schools before leading the successful campaign for a new school in Bedford. He was Principal of Bedford Free School between 2012 and 2017, and since then has run Parents & Teachers for Excellence, the New Schools Network, and the Campaign for Common Sense.

Neil Hatton

Chief Executive, UK Screen Alliance

Neil has been involved with UK Screen as a director right from its inception in 2004. His background is in broadcast post-production where he was an editor/MD/owner for 20 years and he was a pioneer of non-linear editing. He was appointed CEO in 2016 and is the organisation’s principal spokesperson and policy advocate.

WorldSkills UK are also hosting an event at Labour Party Conference. Click here for more details.

If you are attending this year’s party conferences and would like to connect with WorldSkills UK, please contact Aaron Revel, Senior Policy & Public Affairs Manager via

You might be interested in

Sign up to receive our latest updates to your email