Buyers flocking in but lack of skilled workforce a problem

Bangladesh's apparel sector needs skilled workforce to soak buy-orders of high-value products now being shifted from the largest clothing exporting nation China.
Industry sources said the existing workforce, mostly engaged in the production of low to middle-end items, are not that familiar with high-end products to push the country's clothing export to a new height or closer to that of China.
They said buyers are now pressing hard to make high-end products like blazers, trousers, jackets etc to be produced by the latest and state-of-the-art innovations.
The existing factories that have been producing such items like East-West group, EPIC Group, Starling Group, Universal Group etc are full of supply-orders and most of them have either expanded their production capacity or going to expand.
Epic Design has established a high-value RMG production unit at Adamjee EPZ (Export Processing Zone) at a cost of about $30 million. Besides, some other foreign or joint venture companies have either established or going to establish such new units within or outside EPZ area.
"We have orders to expand more but we are handicapped by scarcity of workforce," Managing Director & Country Head of EPIC Group Bangladesh, Virender Goyal told the FE Sunday.
"Our buyers are now shifting their orders for high-value added products from China," Goyal said.
He added, "The installation of new machineries is not an obstruction but lack of skilled operators is the main obstacle to our jump towards the next step of sophisticated market."
Top executives of leading factories said a growing number of chief purchasing officers (CPOs) in European and US apparel companies are desperately searching for factories in the country that may make and supply such items every day. "Availability of such workforce may re-shape the country's future within the next couple of years," said an executive.

"Everyday buyers are pressing on the issue as the biggest RMG making destination China has been loosing its attractiveness in this realm due to high wages. Sourcing caravan is moving on to the next hot spot Bangladesh gradually," second vice-president of BGMEA and a producer of trousers, Siddiqur Rahman said.

"We've already won the hearts of international buying houses that we are capable of making any product from low-end to high end," Rahman added.

He said currently a small number of factories are making such products for the world's highest selling retailers.

"Workers are getting handsome salary but the availability of such work force is inadequate compared to the present demand," said a manager of Standard Group.
He alleged that there was no institute in the country to train the workers for this smart profession.
He further added, "It takes intense training to make the workers skilled for producing such specialised garment items for special markets. But such workers are not available in Bangladesh."
According to the statistics of BGMEA, market size of such products in the globe is vast. Number one exporter China has so far been dominating the market.
If the country can raise adequate skilled workforce it would add billions of dollars to our export basket.
However, BGMEA president Md. Shafiul Islam (Mohiuddin) has expressed the hope to introduce such a befitting course in its university of fashion and technology.
"Considering the immense prospect of export of high-valued RMG products we have decided to introduce training in our institute to help meet the demand for skilled workers," he added.
McKinsey & Company has recently initiated a case study that sets out to review Bangladesh's RMG growth formula, which builds on the country's strong starting position and the increasing demand of international buyers.
"Leading international retailers, especially from the value sector, started to source in Bangladesh," said the McKinsey report.

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