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