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Readymade garments are one of Pakistan’s top exports but a number of constraints are inhibiting the sector’s true potential. A particularly problematic issue is the availability of skilled labour for garment manufacturing.

Recently, the Planning Commission approved funds for a project which aims to set up 1000 industrial stitching units under the public private partnership mode. Although that is a good initiative, there needs to be more effort dedicated towards developing the skills of small and medium enterprises operating in the garments sector. For what good are stitching units if there is a dearth of skilled labour to operate them.

Enhancing labour productivity is paramount if the overall quantum of garment exports is to be enhanced. While focus was on providing rebates and reducing the cost of production, the other part of the equation which is skills development for garment workers still needs a lot of effort.

As this column has highlighted before, other emerging economies especially Bangladesh and Vietnam are classic cases in example of how best to improve skills capacity of the garment labour force by investing in both technology as well as worker skills.

Both Vietnam and Bangladesh partnered with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to roll out the Better Work program which has had promising results for the garment sectors in both countries.

Better Work was started in Vietnam in 2009 and is responsible for providing support to over 400 export-oriented factories which employ over half a million workers. The programme conducts assessments and provides advice to these factories for improving labour productivity and standards. In fact Better Work led to a 25 percent increase in revenue to cost margins in four years.

In Bangladesh, the government has also collaborated with the private sector to undertake skill development where industry associations and lead buyers played an important role. In fact, the BGMEA Institute of Fashion and Technology (BIFT) is a very good case of a sustainable skill development institute. Initially funded by the donors and the government, the institute has become independent and its graduates have guaranteed employment from garment associations.

The garments sector in Pakistan does not have to start from scratch to come up with a roadmap for skills development. A good start would be to emulate the above mentioned successful models in collaboration with the private sector and the donor community. A good starting place would be Sialkot and Faisalabad which both have garments clusters and can be used to kick off a pilot skills development program for the garments sector. More on this in the coming days.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019