A critical look into the skill gap in the textile industry

Nazneen Ahmed and Mitali Parvin   | Published: December 09, 2018 21:42:29 | Updated: December 13, 2018 12:41:53

The textile industry of Bangladesh, for quite a long time, has been making significant contribution in expanding our exports, employment generation, women empowerment and socio-economic development. The industry not only contributes to primary textile needs of the households, but also to the fabric needs of the ready-made garments (RMG) sector, the main export industry of Bangladesh. After meeting the major domestic demand for textile products, the primary textile sector (PTS) can meet about 85-90 per cent of the knit fabrics required for export-oriented knitwear industry and 35-40 per cent of fabrics required for export-oriented woven RMG industries (Bangladesh Economic Review 2017). The success of RMG industry of Bangladesh could not be attained without the continued support of our PTS, which acts as a strong backward linkage and contributes as deemed exporter. Manufacturing of textile and the textile sector and the subsectors under these sectors i.e. cotton, silk, synthetic, dyeing and bleaching show a varied range of growing production over the recent years. With the increasing production of the manufacturing of readymade garments, the production of cotton, silk, synthetic and other textiles are also on the rise. Local demand for fabric and the yarn demand for handloom are also met by PTS. Some 100 per cent of the domestic yarn demand are met by this sector.

Though Bangladesh mainly exports RMG products, it also exports some primary textiles. In FY2017-18, US$1.23 billion was earned from export of primary textile products. The spinning sector, a subsector of the textile industry, also produces yarn for textile items exported from Bangladesh like home textile, terry towel and the denim producers. The textile industry of Bangladesh is dependent on imported cotton. Raw cotton import in 2016-17 was about 7.4 million bales. At the end of 2017, there were 1,461 mills registered under the Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA), where 425 are textile spinning mills, 796 are textile weaving/knitting mills and 240 fabric processing mills (dyeing printing and finishing mills). Among these, there are 40 composite mills. The composite factories are integrated large-scale mills that integrate spinning, weaving and, sometimes, fabric finishing. The weaving mills include denim producing mills and home textile. In 2017, annual capacity for yarn spinning was 2,589 million kgs and the capacity of woven fabric manufacturing was 3,583 million metrrs (by the mills listed with the BTMA). 

Assessment of current and future needs for skills in the textile sector workforce: The textile industry accounts for 45 per cent of all industrial employment in the country and contributes 5.0 per cent of the total national income. Textiles as a whole play the most significant role in poverty alleviation, economic and social empowerment of women by creating employment opportunities. According to the Survey of Manufacturing Industries, a total of 1.5 million people were employed in the textile sector in 2012. Out of them 57 in 2012 are male and 43 in 2012 are female. In a study conducted by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies in 2016, we found nearly equal gender distribution in employment in textile industry. However, in most of the staff categories, male employees dominate with the exception of machine, production, knitting, weaving, spinning and finishing operators, where majority of the workers are female. Women's participation is very limited to managerial and technical positions. Both male and female workers working in the textile sector currently are skilled workers. At any category of occupations in the textile industries, skilled employees dominate (Table 1).

During our enterprise survey in our study, the entrepreneurs were asked to project the future demand for the unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled employees in different categories of employment. According to their response, there will be around 3.0 in 2012 growth in demand for employees in the surveyed textile firms between 2017 and 2022 and 6.0 in 2012 in the next 10 years. The demand for skilled manpower will be the highest in the categories of engineers and technicians. Some new kinds of skills will be required in future such as design engineers, software-based production and dying operators. The size of demand for such skills is still unclear to the entrepreneurs.

Skill need for different occupational categories has been estimated on the basis of macroeconomic national data. The study results indicate that if national GDP increases by 1.0 in 2012, value added in the textile sector also increases by 2.09 per cent and if gross value added in textile industry increases by 1.0 per cent, overall employment in this sector increases by 0.14 per cent. It means that as the economy grows, the textile industry also thrives and provides people with more jobs. To dig into the type of employment generation, it is interesting to know the nature of changes in demand for persons with different skill categories. In our study we have also found that a 1.0 per cent increase in the value added in this sector leads to a rise of 0.36 per cent skilled labour in this sector. On the other hand, the semi-skilled labor and unskilled labour will increase by 0.12 per cent and 0.47 per cent respectively. These estimates indicate that in future unskilled persons will come to work in the textile sector more than semi-skilled and skilled persons. However, there is a possibility that a large number of unskilled engineers (not trained particularly for the textile industry), production operators, quality controllers and lab technicians will be employed in the sector. Thus, training opportunities need to be created more for these occupational categories.

Training and education infrastructure for textile industry: The workers at various occupational levels in the textile industry typically obtain skills through a combination of pre-employment education or training and on-the-job training. Related pre-employment education is conducted by public or private education providers, often not in collaboration with employers. However, in our study, the surveyed enterprises mentioned that skills are mostly gained on the job by employees. Most of the training programmes organised on the job have a duration of two to three months. Some training may last for six months.

The dominance of skilled workers at different occupational categories indicates that most of the employees are working in the firms for a long time. According to Annual Report 2014-2015 of ministry of textile and jute, there are five textile engineering colleges, three textile institutes, 40 textile vocational institutes under the Department of Textiles in Bangladesh. There are 21 private universities in Bangladesh that have textile engineering department. This apparently large educational system is producing about 188 textiles graduates and 3,630 textiles undergraduates and 2,616 SSC vocational trained every year.

The shortage in skilled employee will be a major obstacle to the expansion of textile industry in future mainly due to the increase in global competition. To overcome this problem, the respondents have suggested arrangements for more on the job training in collaboration with external training institutes. Most of the educational institutes or training institutes offering training for the textile sector skill development do not provide any in-service training for employees or training for the freshly recruited technical people. They provide courses for attracting students to become textile engineers (BSc in textile engineering and diploma in textile engineering) for preparing cotton fibers, spinning/yarn manufacturing, weaving/knitting, dyeing and finishing the textiles. The entry level educational qualification of trainees may be SSC for Diploma, HSC for B.Sc, and may be masters for other training courses. The design of the course is inadequate to fulfill the demand for the textile industry mainly due to the lack of practical training facilities. Internship could be arranged at the middle of the course at least for 15-20 days. The diploma training facilities of Bangladesh need sufficient lab facilities, modern machinery and research scopes. There is lack of collaboration between industries and academic organisations that are providing diploma training. So, it requires more integration into industries.

The vocational training facilities of Bangladesh are insufficient to cater to the industrial demand for skilled workers and technicians. The quality is also poor. The vocational training institutes need experienced teachers as well as modern course curriculum to meet the need of the industrial sector. They also need improved training facilities, including lab facilities.

The emand for several professional categories is expected to grow in the next five years and therefore workers will need hands-on training on various new issues such as technical textiles like medical textiles (medical textiles also known as healthcare textiles), geotextiles, automobile textiles; denim washing sector, design development, ETP (Effluent Treatment Plant), chemical management, textile recycling, safety management; fancy yarn manufacturing, special design fabric, wet processing of fabrics using less water and chemical; green textile.

W ay forward: Bangladesh is fully dependent on imported cotton. Therefore, the improvement in the productivity of textile sector will depend much on the technological advancement, skilled manpower and favourable business facilities (like infrastructure, gas supply etc.).  There is a huge gap in skills the textile sector. And in some cases, foreign professionals are employed in the textile industries (the cost of production increases). Though some modern training and research institutes are built for generating skilled manpower for this sector, this is still inadequate. This sector has high potential for growth but this will require closing the skill gaps and shortages. The prevailing training facilities are not enough to meet the demand for skilled persons in this sector. To close the gap in skills in the textile sector, we need following initiatives:

  • Establishment of more private sector training institutes to meet the demand for the textile industry should be encouraged. In this connection training facilities should be given more for dying and production operators, technicians for repairing textile machinery, quality controllers and lab technicians.
  • Quality of training is a question, especially for vocational training institutes. More facilities should be created for trainers' training.
  • Private initiatives for establishing vocational training institutes should be encouraged.
  • Design of textile products is a big concern for competitiveness. More computer-based training programmes are necessary to produce innovative textile designers.
  • Collaboration between training institutes and textile industries is needed for providing the students with more practical knowledge about the sector.
  • The diploma training facilities of Bangladesh need sufficient lab facilities with modern machinery and research scopes.
  • To improve the quality of the existing vocational training facilities for the textile sector related profession, the curriculum needs to be upgraded in consultation with the leaders of the textile sector.  

Dr Nazneen Ahmed is a senior research fellow of, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS). nazneen7ahmed@yahoo.com 

Mitali Parvin is a research associate, BIDS.

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