Skilled women play a crucial role in achieving the ambitious goal of $100 billion in annual apparel exports. Industry experts and insiders emphasize that providing training and support to women in supervisory positions is vital for increasing productivity in garment factories, thus contributing to the target.
These observations were made during a panel discussion titled “Addressing Skill Gaps in the Garment Industry” at the “Career Opportunities for Women in Bangladesh’s Garment Industry” event held in Dhaka. The event featured the presentation of an assessment report conducted by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) under the Better Work’s Gender Equality and Returns (GEAR) program. The European Union, in collaboration with the University of Oxford and BRAC JPG SPH, funded this program.
GEAR partnered with renowned global apparel brands such as H&M, M&S, Levi’s, Ralph Lauren, and VF Corporation to implement the program in their supplier factories. This collaboration ensured high completion and promotion rates.
Since 2016, over 600 women operators in 78 factories have received training in technical skills and the skills necessary for supervisory roles. Impressively, nine out of ten participants successfully completed the training program, and two-thirds of them were promoted to supervisory positions. At the supervisory level, the trainees now earn 40 percent more than their counterparts who were not selected for the training, with the potential for further promotions up the management ladder.
Professor Christopher Woodruff from the Department of Development Economics at the University of Oxford, who led the research study, revealed that GEAR trainees proved to be more effective as supervisors. The lines managed by them were 4 percent more efficient, and this productivity gap widened with supervisory experience. The study estimated that the resulting cost savings exceeded US$5,000 per line per year, translating to $100,000 for a factory with 20 lines.
Moreover, the study found that sewing operators working on GEAR-trainee-managed lines experienced higher levels of well-being and more satisfactory working environments. This positive outcome was attributed to the cooperative and supportive management style of the supervisors.
During the event, Rubana Huq, former president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Vice-Chancellor of the Asian University for Women (AUW), highlighted that AUW currently has 1,345 students from various countries, many of whom come from underserved communities. She emphasized the importance of upskilling workers for the future and encouraged them to aspire beyond just being supervisors or operators, stating that they possess the potential to achieve more.
Faisal Samad, Director of BGMEA, emphasized the need to start from the bottom and work upwards in order to reach the desired goal. He acknowledged the hard work of the workers and entrepreneurs and emphasized the industry’s commitment to uplifting both the nation and the sector. He also emphasized the importance of understanding the challenges faced by women in the apparel industry, expressing the BGMEA’s dedication to raising these concerns to the ministry level to drive progress.
Syeda Afzalun Nessa, Head of Corporate Sustainability at HSBC Bangladesh, praised the IFC’s remarkable work and emphasized the need for collaborative efforts to achieve meaningful results. She mentioned the successful partnership between HSBC and AUW in establishing the HSBC-AUW School of Apparel, which was once just a dream and is now a reality.
Wagner Albuquerque de Almeida, IFC Global Director for Manufacturing, Agribusiness, and Services, stressed the criticality of having a skilled workforce to sustain the industry’s growth. He emphasized the importance of tapping into the widest possible talent pool.
In summary, empowering and training women in supervisory roles is essential for achieving the $100 billion target in annual apparel exports. This is why the HSBC-AUW School of Apparel is a significant step towards achieving this goal. By providing education and training to women in the industry, it helps to bridge the skills gap and promote gender equality in the workforce.