Automation Doesn’t Mean ‘Get Rid Of the People’

Automation Doesn’t Mean ‘Get Rid Of the People’
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During a media briefing at Seagate’s 40th birthday commemoration, the company’s head of operations for products and strategy, Jeffrey Nygaard, discussed the changing nature of Seagate’s workforce and how long-term staff need to be retrained as the skills needed to build the next generation of storage devices evolves. That’s something every business embracing automation needs to consider.

During his presentation, where he spoke about some of the new storage tech the company was developing, Nygaard said “Operators at Seagate don’t build anything. Operators at Seagate manage equipment that builds the parts that we make”.

That extends into engineering functions and other parts of the business where big data sets are used to conduct complex machine learning-led analyses to help with the design of new models and to drive other decisions. The nature of work at Seagate, and indeed many workplaces, is changing as the way data is used evolves and the processes involved in everything from design to how a product is managed at the end of its life are handled.

Seagate isn’t alone in this. But this is one of the few times I’ve heard a senior exec say, as succinctly, what is happening at the coalface of manufacturing when it comes to workforce management and the need for new skills. Rather than toss away the experience of long-term staff, Nygaard was looking at how to develop the skills of workers at every level of the business so they could leverage that experience while taking advantage of new opportunities.

Nygaard noted that while Seagate wasn’t perfect, they were “moving up that trajectory” in getting smarter about using the data and skills they have.

Many businesses see automation as a way to get rid of people. But the reality is that while automation can offer greater precision and speed than human operators, you still need people, albeit with different skills, to ensure that the machines are doing what they’re meant to be doing.

The increased use of robotics, machine learning and other evolving technology does require a new set of skills. But that doesn’t mean exisiting staff can’t be up-skilled.

Anthony Caruana attended Seagate’s 40th birthday press event as a guest of Seagate


  • Been saying this for years, nay, decades. I work in the ATO, an industry that’s always touted as one of those that will be automated out of existence. Guess what? It was a long time ago. Then adapted itself to compensate.

    30 years ago (give or take) when I started, everything was manual here. File movements, keying, auditing, etc etc. There were about 22,000 people here. Fast forward to today, where computers have changed things so theres no file movements, no data entry, and auditing has access to 50 times as much info, there are still 22,000 people here.

    What changed was the roles people did. Data entry disappeared, but other areas became important. Case selection was still necessary, but it became less generic and more focussed. Audits got access to more and more data, so was more accurate with the risks. Some audit types just disappeared literally overnight.

    Like bank interest audits, once they started data matching bank accounts with tax returns. It was an instant success, hence the audit area that typically did them no longer had to. Which freed those auditors up to do more refined work.

    30 years ago we didn’t have 1000 analysts looking over swarms of data. We didn’t have a programming area designing and building our tools. As the world evolved so did our job, and we simply adapted to it.

    The signature line is spot on. Machines replace jobs, but staff generally don’t need a huge amount of retraining to be able to do whats left.

    • This, exactly – automation is going to affect low skill, repetitive, easily patterned jobs first, and it’s going to be a very long time before it comes close to replacing anything that requires much more thought. AI is progressing nicely but it’s still a long way from doing even a small amount of the things doomsayers are claiming it’ll replace.

      I work in healthcare and AI has augmented some things but hasn’t replaced much at all. If I was working in a warehouse moving boxes I’d be more concerned.

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