A Unique Membership Organisation

Sustainability, Quality and Growth in the Employer-Led Skills Market

Working together across the UK, our members have a shared vision and are committed to acting as a collaborative ‘enabler’ for meaningful and sustainable skills and employment opportunities for all individuals.

We are comprised of some of the UK’s leading employers, training providers and awarding organisations, from across all sectors and levels of qualification, making us representative of the UK’s delivery infrastructure.

Meet our Members

Training Provider Employer EPAO
Darren Bance Profile Image

Darren Bance

Managing Director of Education Operations at QA

Viren Patel

Director of Business Development Unit at The Open University

David Smith

Chief Operating Officer at Lifetime Training

Tracy Fairhurst Profile Image

Tracy Fairhurst

Head of Apprenticeships at Royal Mail

David Gallagher Profile Image

David Gallagher

CEO of NCFE

Jane Hadfield

National Lead for Apprenticeships and Widening Participation at Health Education England, NHS

David Phillips Profile Image

David Phillips

Managing Director at City and Guilds UK

Hannah Connors

Head of Apprenticeship Delivery at Network Rail

Ruth South

Global Early Careers and Apprenticeships Lead at Costa Coffee

Debbie Bhebhe

Director of Apprenticeships at Capita

Jenny Taylor Profile Image

Jenny Taylor

UK Graduate, Apprenticeship and Student Programme Leader at IBM

Jamie Pemberton

Head of Apprenticeships at BT

James Kelly

CEO of Corndel

Brenda McLeish OBE

CEO of Learning Curve Group

David Marsh Profile Image

David Marsh

Director and Co-Chair of the St Martin’s Group

Jo Burgess

Director of Apprenticeships, Teeside University

Freya Thomas Monk

Senior Vice President of Vocational Qualifications & Training, Pearson Plc

Mark Botha

CEO of Paragon Skills

David Hare

Director, Talent Solutions, Grant Thornton UK LLP

Simon Little

Managing Director, Best Practice Network

Vicky Hewson

Head of Apprenticeships, University of Hull

Paul Heppell

Skills and Qualification Manager, Poundland

Alex Khan

Chair of Inspiro

Nigel Taylor

Head of Learning and Development, CareTech

Simon Gibson

Group Head of L&D, Marks and Spencer

Jill Coyle

Apprentice Market Lead, Nestlé UK & Ireland

Darren joined QA in January 2020 as Managing Director of Education Operations, where he works to ensure operational rigour and deliver excellence across the learning, consulting and apprenticeships service lines.

Darren is an experienced business leader with 20 years of proven track record success in large and medium scale organisations within both the private and public sectors across the UK and Middle East. Prior to joining QA, Darren was Executive Director of Learning Services at Capita, heading up the division overseeing learning and training businesses.

He holds a BSC in City and Regional Planning from the University of Wales and is a member of the Institute for Collaborative Working.

Viren started his career in accountancy before moving into the commercial world 20 years ago. He has worked across diverse sectors including education, telecommunications, healthcare and retail and joined The Open University in 2015. Now in his role as Director of the Business Development Unit, Viren manages the OU’s commercial activity portfolio which includes working with employers and  educational partners both within the UK and Internationally, as well as identifying new potential income diversification opportunities.  

For over 50 years, The Open University has led the way in innovative distance-learning and has a proven track record and rich heritage of providing workplace education solutions for employers across a range of sectors, which help employees fulfil their potential.

The Open University’s flexible and adaptable approach enables consistent educational programmes to be delivered at scale, across geographically dispersed workforces. Through minimising the time needed in the classroom, The Open University’s blended delivery model is shaped around the needs of the employer and the role and responsibilities of the learner. This gives employees new skills and knowledge they can apply immediately to the workplace – increasing engagement and maximising return on investment.

During Viren’s time at the OU, the OU has launched higher and degree apprenticeship programmes in healthcare, social work, policing, systems thinking, digital management and leadership. The OU also offers undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, vocational qualifications, microcredentials, short courses and free learning and now works with more than 2,800 organisations across a wide range of sectors.

David Smith is a dynamic and visionary leader who took the reins as CEO of Lifetime in July 2023. With a remarkable track record across multiple blue chip business service sectors, David brings a wealth of expertise and a passion for transforming companies, building long lasting customer relationships, and building colleague engagement all with an eye on sustainability and social value.

Before joining Lifetime, David has held the prestigious position of Chief Executive at 6 previous organisations, where he made a lasting impact in sectors as diverse as Logistics, Facilities Management, Environmental Services, and Retail Banking. David is also a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants.

But David is more than just a seasoned executive; he is a true advocate for the power of vocational training and the incredible potential it holds for individuals and businesses alike. With an unwavering belief in the value of apprenticeships, David champions their ability to unlock untapped talents and create meaningful opportunities.

Tracy is a commercially focused Learning Development and Talent professional with extensive experience in all aspects of early careers and learning development provision, including strategy development, full learning cycle and talent solutions.

She joined Royal Mail as a Senior Leadership Development Manager in 2016, and prior to that worked at Merseyside Police as Head of Professional Development. Tracy holds a BA in Interdisciplinary Human Studies from the University of Bradford and an EMBA from Lancaster University.

She is a qualified and experienced Executive Coach, specialising in leadership development, innovation and digital solutions, and sits on the Apprentice Council’s Advisory Panel.

David is Chief Executive Officer at NCFE, a leading not-for-profit provider of educational services and one of the UK’s biggest exam boards. He has enjoyed a successful career in employment and skills for more than 18 years, spanning frontline delivery in some of the most deprived communities in the country, to his current role as CEO of the NCFE. David is a Non Executive Board Member at the Federation of Awarding Bodies and Together for Children.

David’s diverse career has shaped his perspectives on education, skills and employment. His experience includes working in the public sector for the Learning and Skills Council (now ESFA) where he was heavily involved in qualification reform policy and the introduction of the QCF. He has also worked with several leading national employment and skills providers, including Working Links and Ingeus during periods of significant market shift such as the introduction of ‘payment by results’. Prior to joining NCFE, David was Group Commercial Director at Babington.

Jane is a Registered Nurse, and Executive Coach and Organisation Development Specialist, with broad experience in clinical and corporate senior leadership roles in the NHS. Her interests and experience include influence and experience in schools and post 16 skills and education; workplace learning and education; education progression pathways; coaching and leadership development; job creation and career development; vocational training and Apprenticeships; Chair of a number of development groups for apprenticeships (Trailblazers), and T Level Health Employer Panel Chair.  (Technical Education reforms, Department of Education).

Janes current Role with HEE is National Lead for Apprenticeships and Senior Programme Manager for Talent for Care, with responsibility for supporting and overseeing implementation of new apprenticeship standards with Employers in the Trailblazer system.

Jane has worked for the majority of her career in the NHS in Bristol, and now holds a national role in the NHS, managing the introduction of the apprenticeship reforms, using her experience, garnered during her career, in leading, facilitating and overseeing implementation of new apprenticeship education pathways – which includes liaising with, and supporting Employers, working with stakeholders and Health and Education policy leads, to ensure that the apprenticeship standards are fit for use in the health and care sector, to support and develop patient facing and indirect patient facing roles. The programme Jane leads is designed to move from development and implementation, to a quality focussed, strong and sustainable apprenticeship strategy for the NHS.

Jane’s career includes many high points, particularly as a national Ambassador for Apprenticeships, in leading and supporting people fulfil their potential; in seeing the careers of many apprentices develop and flourish over the years; in raising the profile of widening participation and establishing new career pathways into health and care roles.

Jane was honoured with a national award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Development of Apprenticeships’ in 2020, and her team gained the Team Award in 2021. Jane was also awarded recognition as Highly Commended for partnership working with HEE and Skills for Health in the Health Service Journal Awards, 2020.

 

David is a Managing Director at City and Guilds Group, responsible for leading the City and Guilds and ILM brands. He also oversees the Group’s growing End of Point Assessment (EPA) business. David has spent the majority of his career in education, working in companies that serve and partner with schools, colleges and training providers including Pearson and RM.

He has extensive experience managing significant businesses employing up to 700 people and is skilled at creating and delivering corporate strategies by inspiring teams to execute a shared vision and deliver growth in revenue, market share and profitability. He is passionate about working in the education and training sector and helping others to develop and grow.

Hannah has have worked in the field of Apprenticeships and Graduates for nearly 20 years and is currently the Head of Apprenticeship Delivery at Network Rail. Previous positions have included senior roles in National Express and RATP Dev London – a London Bus company. Hannah has been involved in developing various apprentice standards through trail blazer groups including a new standard for Bus Maintenance Engineers, and has worked with key stakeholders such as Transport for London to develop qualifications to drive improved customer experience

Hannah is Vice Chair of Governors and the Special Educational Needs Link Governor at a local secondary school and is passionate about the role that apprenticeships play in driving organisational performance and increasing social mobility.

Hanna has recently relocated with her family from London to Sheffield, where they joined the Open House Project – a self-supportive, eco-friendly co-housing community.

 

Ruth joined Costa Coffee in September 2021 and leads the Global Early Careers and Apprenticeships area. Ruth drives Costa’s talent strategy for graduates, apprentices and early careers, creating opportunities to enable the business to grow their leaders of the future. She is passionate about continuous talent development, diversity and inclusion across all stages of career and changing perceptions of apprenticeships.

Prior to joining Costa, Ruth led the early and emerging talent area at Capgemini, developing award winning apprenticeship programmes across a range of specialisms.

Jenny is Leader of IBM UK’s multi-award winning Early Professional Programmes with responsibility for all aspects of the schemes, including recruitment, career management, development of education programmes and financial management.

Jenny was at the forefront of developing Degree Apprenticeships in 2015 and is Chair of the Digital and Technology Solutions Level 6 Trailblazer. She was leader of IBM’s Girls’​ Schools’​ and Dare2BDifferent outreach programmes which were recognised in the Opportunity Now Work Inspiration awards 2011 and 2014.

Jenny is currently Chair of the Digital Degree Apprenticeship Trailblazer. She is a member of the TechSkills Board and a Commissioner for the Princess Royal Training Awards. Jenny was a finalist in the Everywomen in Technology Inspiration of the Year award 2015 and was named Apprenticeship Champion of the Year 2020 in the National Apprenticeship Service awards.

Jamie is a commercial learning professional with a passion and specialism for apprenticeships. Joining BT at the beginning of 2023, as Head of Apprenticeships, Jamie leads the apprenticeship strategy across the business, focusing on both entry level talent and reskilling and upskilling the current workforce.

Prior to joining BT, Jamie gained significant multi sector experience across public and private sector organisations, including London Fire Brigade, Network Rail, Volkswagen and most notably had accountability for the Jaguar Land Rover Apprenticeship programme whilst working for Training Provider Babcock. Jamie has spent the last 3 years working in the nuclear sector working in partnership with Sellafield, focusing on future skills and capability.

Co-Founded Corndel in 2016 to focus on delivering the highest quality professional training and apprenticeship programmes. Passionate about workplace development, education, and skills. 20 years’ experience in professional service consulting with PwC, IBM and Deloitte. Leads on strategy, culture, and corporate growth. Career interest in public policy, the importance of work and empowering people to seize opportunities to maximise their professional potential.

Brenda McLeish OBE is the CEO of one of the UK’s largest training providers, Learning Curve Group.

With more than 20 years’ experience in the education sector, Brenda has helped drive significant growth in the business, which delivers a broad range of educational services and training programmes across diverse industry sectors and a broad range of learners.

Having entered the sector with East Durham College, Brenda developed her career in a number of roles before joining Learning Curve Group in 2008.  Progressing to her current role as Chief Executive, Brenda has helped the business grow from 40 full-time employees to more than 450.

Learning Curve Group supports approximately 120,000 learners every year through the learning materials it creates and directly across its network of training facilities and skills academies in the North East and Yorkshire as well as through relationships with many thousands of employers. 

The company, which has just developed a new purpose-built headquarters five miles south of Durham City, has seen its turnover increase from £1m to in excess of £45m in the past decade as well as having national coverage as a training provider.

Brenda is an active member of a series of strategic boards and network steering groups including AELP, the North East Chamber of Commerce and the Tees Valley Local Enterprise Partnership.

She has also led on strategy to respond to local and national priorities to support NEET’s, apprenticeship provision, delivery to the unemployed, work based training, flexible learning provision and English and Mathematics.

David has been CEO of Babington for 18 months and brings a wealth of experience to the role having previously been MD of Capita’s Apprenticeship and Training business, Head of Academies at British Gas and a Director in Babcock’s Education and Training business. In total, he has been immersed in the sector for nearly 10 years as both a provider and employer-provider. David was also a teacher prior to this.

During the past three years, David has chaired the Provider Reference Group for the ESFA, made up of a wide range of providers across FE, HE, EPAOs and the independent sector to act as a support mechanism to initially develop the new funding rules and ultimately make the levy and standards a success. He was also Chair of one of the early trailblazer groups to develop the Smart Meter Installer standard and sits on the Board of AELP. Babington is a founding member of The St Martin’s Group.

Jo Burgess joined Teesside University as Director of Apprenticeships in April 2022. Teesside University already had a strong reputation as an Ofsted Outstanding Apprenticeship provider. Under Jo’s recent leadership the university has launched a new Professional Apprenticeship strategy setting out the vision and mission to support an apprenticeship system that delivers for high-level skills, social mobility and contributes to sustainable economic growth.

Prior to joining Teesside, Jo held a pivotal role at Innovate UK, the UK’s Innovation Agency, where she was Head of Innovation Talent and Skills. In that role she was responsible for directing public investment, shaping policy and leading cross Government talent and skills initiatives to enable the UK to deliver on its innovation capabilities.

Jo is passionate about apprenticeships and the benefits they bring.  As a CIPD professional specialising in learning and development,  Jo has held a range of early talent and learning and development roles within public and private sector, before taking on a strategic LEP role delivering first Apprenticeship Hubs and talent brokerage services across  North Yorkshire.

She has had the privilege of supporting a range of apprenticeship developments including leading the roll out of the first-degree apprenticeship in Data Science and a member of the Research Scientist apprenticeship trailblazer, to most recently joining the Social Research Apprenticeship Trailblazer with Teesside University.

Freya Thomas Monk is Senior Vice President of Vocational Qualifications & Training at Pearson Plc. Freya is responsible for a £140M business delivering apprenticeships, vocational learning and qualifications in the UK and internationally, working closely with universities, colleges and schools, and with government and employers, to drive skills to serve our economy.  Freya joined Pearson in 2004 and previously led the fast growth of the digital English Assessment business. She is passionate about the importance of education in helping individuals reach their goals in life.

Before Pearson Freya held roles as a strategy consultant with McKinsey & Company and led web development in the dot.com era.  She holds an MA from Oxford University and an MBA from INSEAD (Paris).

Freya serves as Chair of Governors of a primary school and sits on the boards of Pearson Education Limited and the UK-ASEAN Business Council (a FCDO sponsored trade body). She lives in London with her husband and three children.

With over 20 years’ diverse experiences working in a variety of sales, marketing and operations director roles for international brands such as Premier Global and Fitness First, Mark was appointed Chief Executive at Paragon Skills in March 2015. In this time, Mark has successfully led the team through a turnaround period of vast change, implementing a new values driven culture that has resulted in learner success rates that have increased significantly year on year and a strong Ofsted Grade 2. Passionate about providing an outstanding teaching and learning experience and takes pride in helping individuals to meet their own professional goals and businesses to reach their strategic vision.

I lead our talent solutions team, supporting clients to drive business performance through their people and skills strategy. I have 20+ years extensive experience working on the skills agenda across the public and private sectors.

I am delighted to lead the talent solutions team that works so closely with our clients to help them get the right skills they need in the business by aligning their skills strategy with market leading apprenticeships. The focus of my most recent work is directly linked to the apprenticeship levy – working continuously to change the perception in the market, from it being an additional payroll tax to an opportunity to develop a workforce for the future.

We have a range of programmes delivering world class development in leadership and management, accountancy and coaching, ad data skills. Current partners include Cranfield University, Activate Business School, BPP and Babington. Our innovative work in this space was recognised by our peers, when we were awarded the ‘Most innovative client service’ award from the Managing Partners’ Forum. We have also won Accountancy College of the Year at the PQAwards for our work with Babington.

Outside of work I’m kept busy by my two primary age children and when not working will often be found on the golf course!

Simon joined Best Practice Network as Managing Director in 2019, already having 20+ years’ experience working in senior sales and operational leadership roles in; Telecommunications, Retail and Training.

Simon has successfully led significant growth in businesses across, Education and Early Years’ sectors, within the UK and Internationally.

Immediately prior to his role at Best Practice Network, Simon worked as CEO of a mid-sized learning disability charity, where he remains a Trustee.

Best Practice Network trains 30,000 teachers and early years professionals, annually across a range of government backed qualifications and Apprenticeships. As a business they are passionate about equality and ensuring that every child benefits from an excellent education, regardless of background or region. 

Victoria began her career in academia at the University of Hull in 2004. Victoria has a wealth of professional and academic experience specifically in undergraduate and Apprenticeship education.

Victoria’s academic focus in recent years is the development of degree apprenticeships following the UK Government’s drive to implement degree apprenticeships within a higher education setting. She has a wide range of experience in curriculum development, internal and external Quality Assurance relating to undergraduate education and higher and degree Apprenticeships.

A Senior Lecturer and Fellow of Advanced HE, Victoria also has significant experience in strategic leadership and management evidenced by her most recent role as Head of Department (Nursing).

Victoria continues to be a registered Dental Care Professional with research and scholarship outputs and interests in oral health, mouth care, promoting health and preventing ill health.

The early part of my career was spent in the Public Sector working for Leeds Active Leisure. I then had seven years in Commercial Leisure for Goals Soccer Centres before joining Lifetime Training in 2008.

I fulfilled several roles from an Assessor, Area Manager and the last six years within the accounts team operating across a number of different Sectors from Health, Adult Social Care, Early Years and Hospitality. I managed and supported many large levy paying organisations to utilise their levy through apprenticeships whilst developing their wider people strategy.

I joined Poundland in May 2022 where I took up the position of Skills and Qualifications Manager, overseeing our apprenticeship provision.

Alex started his career as an apprentice within the Hospitality sector moving on to become the Managing Director of a large support services group, VT Group PLC.  Alex then moved to Babcock International Group, where he continued to build the apprenticeship expansion into further sectors.  For the 10 years following that Alex led Lifetime Training, which grew to become one of the largest providers of apprenticeship training in the country.   He became a Board member of AELP for over 10 years and provided support and insight to Government during the reform of apprenticeships during the introduction of the levy.

Over the past 18 months Alex has supported Babcock’s Civil Training business’s transition to corporate ownership.  This has now rebranded as Inspiro, with Alex as Chair.  Inspiro focuses on Apprenticeships and Adult Technical training across the engineering and service sectors.

Nigel Taylor is CareTech’s Group Head of Learning and Development.  He represents CareTech on many Governmental departmental initiatives, working closely with many of their key departments, including the Department for Education. 

Nigel is passionate about developing the workforce, as a key asset and supports the provision of developing resources to enable our workforce to thrive.  He believes that learning is something we all do every day, and applying this learning effectively is key to providing our staff with opportunities so they feel supported in their roles and can, in turn, can support those in our services/homes/schools providing high quality care and support.

Caretech are committed to utilising apprenticeships where appropriate and have achieved the position of 54th in the top 100 employers for apprenticeships.

Simon Gibson is currently Group Head of L&D at Marks and Spencer running a team covering the entire company and employee lifecycle. Responsible for defining/transforming the strategy and vision for learning across M&S, and for creating world-class learning experiences for 65,000 +colleagues, managers and leaders alike. He has a varied history and experience of working in different sectors and economic climates. From start-up to large multi-national Corporate, including fields such as Finance (b2b and b2c), I.T., Sales, SaS, Solar Energy, Distribution, Media & Digital and Retail. A real passion and energy to drive learning change for the good of both the individual and business, whilst being brave about how technology can really aid some the challenges ahead