Experts emphasize skills development for garment workers

Published in The Daily Star on February 13, 2018

Bangladesh should train its garment workers to improve their skills as 80 percent of them could lose jobs in the next 15 years due to automation, said fashion experts yesterday.

Job losses will take place mainly in Asian countries such as China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia, said Anjuli Gopalakrishna, a consultant of Fashion Tech and Digital Innovation in Singapore.

She said the automation would take place in the sector to meet faster lead-time and make the business sustainable as fashions are rapidly changing worldwide.

“That’s why workers must be trained so they can adapt to the changes,” she said on the sidelines of Bangladesh Fashionology Summit at International Convention City Bashundhara in Dhaka.

Global garment retailers and brands, trade analysts, leaders of trade bodies and chambers and diplomats attended the event organised by Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE) in collaboration with Chittagong-based Pacific Jeans Ltd.

Gopalakrishna said the automation would not only replace the lion’s share of workers but also create job opportunities for some, who will get work to set up and repair machines and maintain tools.

“So, a high-level training for workers is a must so a massive number of workers don’t lose jobs,” she said. According to the consultant, Bangladesh will have to adapt to the latest technologies for higher productivity as well to earn $50 billion from garment exports by 2021.

“Under the traditional production system, Bangladesh would not be able to achieve the target,” she said.

David Birnbaum, who is called the garment guru, also echoed Gopalakrishna.

He said Bangladesh must think about improving the skills of the workers to be in the race of garment business in the cutting-edge production system.

“Higher productivity begins with the training of workers. The factory owners will have to think the workers are important for them,” he said. “The real problem in Bangladesh is that workers are not properly valued in the garment sector.”

Birnbaum, who has been involved in the garment sector since 1966, also worked as a consultant for Youngone Group, a South Korean multinational garment giant.

He said automation occurred the most in the sweater factories in Bangladesh. The woven and the knitwear sectors are also embracing automation. Bangladesh is the largest automated sweater machinery importer worldwide, he said.

“Bangladesh needs automation as it ensures higher productivity in less time and helps maintain lead time.”

Eva Van Der Brugge, innovation manager of Fashion for Good, a Netherlands-based research organisation, said her company is providing solutions in automation worldwide so that garment items can be produced at lesser costs.  She said she has visited some factories in Bangladesh and the factories have started automation.

Amanda Cosco, founder of Canada-based Electric Runway, a fashiontech organisation, said there is a very bad perception about Bangladesh in the US and Canada. “But, coming here, I could realise that not all factories are bad. They are advanced in many areas.”

According to Cosco, the size of the smart fashion industry worldwide would be $130 billion by 2030 and Bangladesh should take preparation to grab more market share in the segment.

“The world is changing rapidly, so is fashion,” said Mostafiz Uddin, founder and CEO of the BAE. He said technology is going to disrupt the global fashion supply chain in less than a decade.

“Do we have enough preparedness to face the future? What should be our strategy if we are to sustain?” he asked.

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