September 28th 2017 | Sheraton Hotel, Edinburgh


Talat Yaqoob

Director, Equate Scotland

Talat Yaqoob is the Director of Equate Scotland, the national expert on women and STEM. She has a background in public affairs, campaigning and research on equalities. She has previously worked on education rights, women’s representation in politics, tackling violence against women and mental health and wellbeing.

Alan Thornburrow

Scotland Director, Business in the Community

Alan Thornburrow is Director of Business in the Community Scotland.  He joins the charity from Scottish Investment Operations (SIO), a membership body for the investment industry in Scotland, where he led SIO’s focus on responsible leadership in the wake of the financial crisis.

Before joining SIO, Alan lived and worked in Toronto where he latterly oversaw a $4bn platform for a Canadian investment management company.

Alan is passionate about making a difference in society. He is an Honorary Professor at Glasgow Caledonian University’s School for Business & Society where he has worked to bring the investment industry and the university closer together.

He is a Fellow of the RSA, past Chairman of the Institute of Directors in Edinburgh and Lothians and past Vice Chairman of Career Ready in Scotland, a charity focused on widening access and opportunity for young people.

Hugh Aitken CBE

Director, CBI Scotland

Hugh joined the CBI after a broad national and international business career spanning three decades, including as General Manager of Microsoft Nevada and Vice-President of Worldwide Manufacturing at Oracle. Most recently, Hugh worked for ASCC, Aitken’s supply chain consultancy. He was the company’s President in California and led work on business process simplification and supply chain optimisation for leading companies, like Hewlett Packard. Prior to ASCC, he was General Manager of Microsoft Nevada where he led the company’s operating centres for North and Latin America and its manufacturing facility in Puerto Rico. From 2010-2011, he was Vice-President of Worldwide-Manufacturing at Oracle. From 1989 to 2010, Hugh worked at Sun Microsystems in various senior roles. In 2005, he was awarded a CBE for services to the technology industry and charity. Between 2000 and 2006, Hugh was Chairman of the Electronics Scotland lobbying group. On taking up the CBI Director role, Hugh returned home to Scotland and is based in Ayr.

Tracy McIntosh

Training Manager, The Knowledge Business

Tracy McIntosh is Training Manager at The Knowledge Business. She has more than 10 years’ experience of running workshops, creating training materials and delivering professional development in the financial and technology sectors.

Tracy is an SQA-qualified assessor, and as a core team member of The Knowledge Business she plays a central role in delivering apprenticeships and assessor training.

Emma Stagg

Policy Adviser - Skills, Heritage Lottery Fund

As Policy Adviser, Skills at the Heritage Lottery Fund, Emma manages the Skills for the Future programme and leads on skills and training policy work across the UK (including apprenticeships). Skills for the Future is focused on creating paid, high quality opportunities for new entrants to the heritage sector to meet skills shortages and to help diversify the workforce. Emma has hands on experience of delivering traineeship projects across England and Wales and has developed National Occupational Standards (NOS), apprenticeship frameworks and vocational qualifications at Lifelong Learning UK (a former Sector Skills Council). She is also a qualified assessor and verifier and has assessed candidates working in libraries, archives and museums.

Tracy McIntosh

Training Manager, The Knowledge Business

Tracy McIntosh is Training Manager at The Knowledge Business. She has more than 10 years’ experience of running workshops, creating training materials and delivering professional development in the financial and technology sectors.

Tracy is an SQA-qualified assessor, and as a core team member of The Knowledge Business she plays a central role in delivering apprenticeships and assessor training.

Jamie Hepburn MSP

Minister for Employability and Training

Jamie Hepburn is the elected Member of the Scottish Parliament for the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth constituency - representing the area he lives in with his family. First elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2007 to represent the Central Scotland region, Jamie was elected to represent Cumbernauld and Kilsyth in 2011, and re-elected as the area's parliamentary representative in 2016.

Marion Beattie

Head of Employer Services

Marion Beattie is Head of Employer Services within Skills Development Scotland with a team committed to ensuring that employers receive the right skills support at the right time. This spans supporting employers through the full employee cycle  - from linking business with schools and education to workbased learning and through restructuring and succession planning. Marion feels passionate that everyone should have the opportunity to reach their full potential and it makes good business sense to do so.

Marion has a wealth of business advisory experience, having previously worked in economic development, research and the private sector. Through these different roles she has built strong business knowledge and experience.

Michael Cross

Interim Director for Access, Skills, and Outcome Agreements, Scottish Funding Council

Michael successfully applied for his post in the Scottish Funding Council on secondment from the Scottish Government, and has been in post since October 2016. He has overall responsibility for outcome agreements (OAs) with Scotland’s colleges and universities, and for ensuring that the Council’s ambitions for access and skills are appropriately advanced - including the priority they are accorded in OAs.

Prior to his current position, Michael led the Scottish Government Division responsible for college policy (including the regionalisation programme that formed part of the Government’s post-16 learning reforms), and was Programme Director for the Government’s seven-year programme to implement Develop Scotland’s Young Workforce, SG’s youth employment strategy; he also managed relations with the Scottish Funding Council.

Before that, Michael led delivery of both Determined to Succeed, the Government's strategy for enterprise in education; and of More Choices, More Chances, its strategy for reducing the number of young people not in education, employment or training.

Before moving to Scotland, Michael held a range of positions in what is now the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. 

Paul Zealey

Skills Planning Lead, Skills Development Scotland

Paul is Skills Planning Lead at Skills Development Scotland, and has lead responsibility for the national skills agency’s strategic relationships within his city region and for oversight of key sectors including digital/ICT. Paul has worked in economic development in Scotland for 25 years, both as an independent consultant and with leadership roles in Scottish Enterprise, CSV and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. His non-executive directorships include Digital Xtra, Scotland’s pioneering digital skills charity.

Sally Charles

Business Development Manager, Robert Gordon University

Sally joined Robert Gordon University (RGU) in 2016 with responsibility for developing a Graduate Level Apprenticeship (GLA) model at the university. 

Sally joined RGU from Aberdeen City Council where she had held a number of roles related to opportunities for young people, most recently as DYW development officer within education. DYW (Developing the Young Workforce) is the Scottish Government’s implementation plan in response to the Commission’s report.


Prior to working with the Council Sally had run her own business for nearly a decade during which time she had been actively involved in educational projects involving secondary, further and higher education.  Previously she worked in media industry investment and tax and early in her career had experience in further education lecturing and in administering post graduate higher education.

Julie Strachan

Senior Project Co-ordinator, Robert Gordon University

Julie returned to Robert Gordon University (RGU) in March 2017 following a number of years working as an HR Manager within the Oil & Gas Industry.  Julie works within RGU’s Department for the Enhancement of Learning, Teaching & Access (DELTA) to support Academics in developing and delivering Graduate Level Apprenticeships and liaise with Skills Development Scotland.

Prior to joining DELTA, Julie was a Senior Lecturer within Aberdeen Business School and Programme Leader of the Undergraduate Management Programme where she was responsible for the design, delivery and development of six degree courses.  Julie also taught at Undergraduate and Postgraduate levels in the areas of Human Resource Management and Organisational Behaviour, and continues to teach and supervise students in her current role.   

Chris Brodie

Lead Head of Skills Planning and Sector Development, Skills Development Scotland

Chris Brodie is the Lead Head of Skills Planning and Sector Development at Skills Development Scotland.  Chris leads a team of more than 30 staff who are responsible for developing a robust, industry informed evidence base to inform the skills system in Scotland.  He has directed the development of 12 industry-led Skills Investment Plans covering sectors ranging from Energy, Digital Technologies and Life Sciences, through to Tourism and Early Years Learning & Childcare.   Chris also leads a team of Regional Skills Planning Leads who work with public sector partners and industry to drive stronger alignment of the skills system with the needs of the economy at a regional level.   

Chris joined SDS in 2012 and has 20 years’ experience in economic and skills development. Prior to joining SDS he was Managing Director of Slims Consulting and worked for a number of leading UK economic and regeneration consultancies.  

Russell Gunson

Director, IPPR Scotland

Russell leads IPPR Scotland, IPPR’s dedicated thinktank for Scotland. Russell set up and has grown IPPR Scotland from scratch to become one of Scotland's leading policy organisations. Before joining IPPR in 2015, Russell worked across government, parliament, and the voluntary and private sectors. Most recently, prior to moving to IPPR Scotland, Russell was director of the National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland, working on a cross-party basis within Scottish politics. Russell has taken part in a number of Reviews and Commissions in Scotland including as a commissioner on Scotland's independent Commission on Widening Access. He was a founding director of Safe Deposits Scotland, the only non-profit tenancy deposit protection scheme based in Scotland.  Russell has experience across the full range of public policy issues in Scotland, with particular expertise in:

  • education
  • skills
  • fiscal analysis
  • the economy

Pauline Anderson

Chancellors Fellow, Dept. HR Management, University of Strathclyde

Pauline Anderson is a Chancellor’s Fellow at Strathclyde University Business School. Her research interests lie in the areas of the articulation of the relationship between education/training and work, skills in a policy context and contemporary labour market and workplace issues. Current research projects focus on graduate-level apprenticeships, occupational segregation, and skills and jobs for the ‘green’ economy. She believes that academics have a key role to play in adding to an evidence base that will feed into and help inform the development of high-quality apprenticeship provision in Scotland and beyond.