Skills shortages were a headache for Scottish technology companies long before current labour market predicaments created a scarcity of workers across virtually all sectors, and as the pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital business models, the problem has grown ever more acute.

Figures released in June suggest that more than one in ten of all vacancies, some 13 per cent, are now in the tech sector. Only London and Northern Ireland have a digital jobs vacancy rate higher than in Scotland, where there were 22,500 unfilled positions in the first quarter of this year.

Against this backdrop technology consultancy AND Digital, which seeks to help companies upskill their existing staff, has experienced rapid growth. Opening its third Scottish office in Edinburgh in June, the company underlined its confidence in continued and growing demand for its services.

Fiona Burton, who heads up the newest office, says upskilling is one of the key tools available to organisations struggling to fill technology roles. Encouraging more people to switch careers into the digital sector could further alleviate some of the pain in what is currently – despite the gloomy economic outlook – one of the tightest labour markets in history.

But against such a severe deficit of digital skills, would the impact be of any significance?

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“Significant? I think we have to say yes because there is a skills shortage, so I think absolutely career changers can have an impact on that,” says Ms Burton, who left a 17-year career in advertising to join AND Digital earlier this year.

“For example, there was a lawyer who approached out company recently. We are having conversations about where that person could sit in our business. I think bright people who are driven and who have the ambition to learn and develop and grow, and to help others grow, they should never rule out [the digital sector] as a career fit.”

She describes her role in terms of lifting the veil from what many perceive to be the “dark art” of technology by explaining complicated things in language understandable to the digital novice. Though on a learning curve with specialised aspects of the industry, other parts of the job are very similar to the work carried out in her former career.

“A lot of the skills are transferrable,” Ms Burton said. “When it comes to leading teams, when it comes to growing clients, these are the transferrable skills.

“Financial management as well – those things are all the same as in my old life.”

Born and raised in Glasgow, she studied economics and English at Strathclyde University before moving to Edinburgh in 2005 to join regional marketing agency The Union.

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“When it came to career choices I knew I wanted to do something with people and I knew that I felt passionately about communication and ideas, and problem-solving,” she recalls.

“That took me into a career in advertising. I wrote to more than 100 agencies trying to get in the door before getting in with The Union.”

From there she joined London agency Billington Cartmell, helping them to set up an office in Edinburgh, and later moved on to the Leith Agency where she worked for the last decade before joining AND.

“I think I came to a natural point where I had taken my marketing and advertising career so far – I was on the board of Leith – and I was just driven by the idea that I wanted to learn, and I wanted to learn quickly in a slightly different sector,” she said.

“I started talking to AND Digital and their culture really matched mine. They were super-ambitious which I adored, and they also put a lot of focus on their people, which again felt like a really interesting place to work.”

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Founded in London in 2014 by Paramjit Uppal, AND opened its first Scottish office in Edinburgh in March 2020, followed by a second in Glasgow in June 2021. Each of its offices – which it refers to as “clubs” – are designed to accommodate 100 staff, which the company deems to be an optimal level.

Ms Burton said the new Edinburgh office now has 42 members of staff and expects to reach 60 by the end of the year, with a full compliment projected to be in place by next summer. Roughly a third of those employees are women which is in line with the broader sector – another area where the tech industry is attempting to make inroads in a bid to alleviate skills shortages.

“I’m delighted to be a figurehead at AND for women in tech,” she said. “Also as a gay woman I am delighted to be driving that diversity story forward as well.

“In the club I am in I think there are about 14 different languages that people speak, and we only have 40-odd people. It is incredibly diverse from a global footprint perspective. But throughout the technology industry we are still not where we want to be with equal balance of genders.”

She added: “At this point gender is sort of front and centre, but equally so are all of the other protected characteristics. We just want to attract the right talent with the right attitude to drive our business forward.”


What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

I’m always attracted to differences, so the stand-out places for me are Sri Lanka and Vietnam. In both you find tasty food, interesting people and lots of natural beauty to get lost in. I’ve spent a lot of time travelling in Scotland too. It really is hard to beat.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

I never had a name for the job I wanted. I just knew it involved presenting ideas – and wearing jeans and trainers to work. (I don’t have jeans on today - it’s too hot).

What was your biggest break in business?

This is a brilliant question. I think my most recent move to AND Digital is my biggest personal break in business. Breaks come from people – someone who has faith in you to deliver. Our founder, Paramjit Uppal, gave me that break. To quote a pioneer I admire (Grace Hopper): “A ship in a port is safe. But that’s not what ships are designed for.”

What was your worst moment in business?

I’ve had a few of these. My worst moments have always come with overconfidence. Overconfidence breeds complacency. Whether it’s losing a pitch, losing a valued member or your team or mis-judging a situation – it all hurts. Remaining grounded, diligent and prepared is my mantra.

Who do you most admire and why?

My mum. As a mother myself now, I have a better understanding of the sacrifices she made and the unwavering commitment she gave to her three kids – all in equal measure.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?

I’m currently reading a lot of children’s books to my almost two-year-old. He’s less interested in Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles, my other current read. I listen to a lot of music. Current playlist favourites: Bahamas, The Staves and Sara Bareilles’ cover of Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.