Aspects of foreign employees in Bangladesh textile and RMG industry

       
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for-webAs a part of continuous coverage on textile education and industry requirements, Textile Today recently has talked to Mohammad Jahidur Rahman, Deputy Country Manager of Tex-Ebo International Pte Ltd. The discussion helped to understand the perspective of foreign nationals working in different positions in the textile apparel industry in Bangladesh. Mr. Rahman has been involved in the textile arena since 1993 and worked in textile production floors, garment production and different positions of merchandising marketing for last 2 decades in his professional career. Here is the brief of the discussion for the readers.

Number of foreign nationals working in Bangladesh textile and apparel industry:

I don’t think we have the authentic number of how many foreign nationals are working in our Readymade Garment sector. Till now we have no investigation, rather than some news from the local journalists. I know some direct sourcing offices; liaison offices have foreigners with proper work permits. And when some company becomes investing partner in Bangladesh; they have certain right to put their nationals in their offshore offices. But, we have huge number of foreign nationals who are working in different roles in textile and RMG sectors including weaving, knitting, dyeing finishing, printing and washing plants. Many nontechnical people are working in the garments production supply chains as well. From the sample room pattern master we have foreign nationals in cutting, stitching, quality control, industrial engineering, planning, production management, top management, merchandising, fashion designing everywhere.  These nationals are not counted by the Government or BOI (Board of Investment) .Massive portion don’t even bother to have proper work permits. Unless or until we have an authentic survey by professional organization we are still in the dark about the right number.

Necessity of foreign nationals in textile and RMG industry:

It’s better to understand why foreign nationals have been here in RMG sector of Bangladesh since long. Korean multipurpose companies had moved their plants in Dhaka long back; they used to have their own skilled professionals in their investments. Later on we have found that in early 80s our dynamic entrepreneurs started setting up small to medium scale sewing plants in in different places. On that period 100% of fabric and accessories were imported from China, India, Pakistan, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and many other countries. I believe in those days we had bigger ratio of foreign nationals compared today.

Basically, in our early industrialization, for a booming industry we didn’t have enough technical hands from textile educational institutes. The industry was having only around 40 graduates in a whole year from College of Textile Engineering & Technology (currently Bangladesh University of Textiles). I have seen in my earlier career that for a small pattern or shape issue garment samples had been rejected by customers again and again. And the ultimate consequence ended with air shipment, discount or cancellation. In that time owners didn’t have choice but to hire experienced technicians from our neighboring countries like India, Sri Lanka to fill the shortage. Yes, they were required that time.

Later on from the end of 80’s local textile graduates started taking the control of circular knit composite textiles/garments. Few of the textile engineers were trained from abroad and running the plants successfully. Yet, lots of foreign technicians have been imported to run the industries and cover the shortage. Within couple of years, our own textile graduates learnt the improvement tricks, and since then they have been ruling our industry successfully. Our cotton circular knit fabric has established a high place in the global retail market due to its consistent quality our engineers are maintaining.

We had some big woven textile factories and very few people were moving to that arena and so we had shortage of textile graduates that time. On the contrary our neighboring countries’ textile industry was shrinking and they were looking for better opportunity to export experts in Bangladesh. So, to be honest we needed the foreign experts in the beginning of our RMG sector. But, after 1995 we have been self-sufficient to run our own show. Nowadays,   for any new machineries or technology from the first world countries, we do need those experts for machine erection till trial running and trouble shooting for few months. After that, we really don’t need them.

If not required why we still see so many of foreign nationals are working in the textile and RMG sector:

In my opinion, the mentality of textile and garments owners has been playing a vital role for recruiting foreign nationals. We have been colonized under British rule for about 200 years!  We have inbuilt mentality that whatever foreign is better than the local. The owners also feel proud to say that they have foreign experts in their facilities. This is an advertisement point to the western customers too.

Except few foreign technicians who have truly vast knowledge and experience in the textile garment industries, 90% or more are having equal or lower skills compared to our textile graduates.

Some important differences or comparisons among foreign & local professionals in my views are briefly as below.

  1. Whenever the foreign nationals work in Bangladesh RMG industries, they used to be more dedicated as they are highly paid compared to the locals. Staying far away from their native and they have only one job to do, rather than other social activities. So, in the Production or in the office they are staying longer time, even in the weekend they are found to be in the factory. This attitude attracted the owners.
  2. At the same time, big industries or corporate organization recruiting foreign nationals in top management. And these top managers always have a tendency to hire their known, low skilled native peoples without any proper verification. You can call it nationalism for sure. Which is absent in our industrialists.
  3. Due to colonized mentality, the floor peoples are still listening attentively to a foreigner rather than a Bangladeshi professional. It happened a lot of time that some solution offered by the local people has not been considered; but some illogical substitute has been implemented by the owner management. Just for example, few years back our Denim fabric plants were fully occupied by the foreign engineers and now we have 25 denim plants, amongst these 22 are efficiently run by the local engineers. The same will happen for the washing & laundry facilities soon. Fresh graduates are entering in different specialized sectors like quality control, fashion and design, industrial and production engineering, machinery design & maintenance etc.
  4. Remember, when the demand of the textile graduates was high in the initial stage—the textile professionals were jumping frequently from one company to others for better salary. Part of their communities’ earlier history of poor commitment is having an impact in the market still. Recruiting a foreign national gives a comfort feeling to the owner. They consider that foreign nationals wouldn’t move from the specific unit, until they complete their agreed contract.
  5. Our Engineers are skilled, knowledgeable yet they are not trained for the global exposure. I have found highly skilled local technicians, but their fluency in English is poor in front of the customers. And our neighboring countries technicians are used to express themselves in a polished way to convince owners & customers as well.
  6. Interestingly, the first generation entrepreneurs are afraid of their mid-level management and higher management for snatching away their business and become new entrepreneurs. Well, as long the first generation had done the same thing when they were working in the industry in the beginning. They had the opportunities of having easy bank loan, cheap labor, cheap energy and they become successful industrialist.

How things could be different:

Unfortunately our owners and their official organizations ( BGMEA, BKMEA etc.) still couldn’t introduce a social welfare plan such as  provident fund, gratuity etc. for the skilled midlevel or senior  managements. So, the mid-level managers are always in a huge panic with insecurity & uncertainty about their future. After a certain period of their career, either they want to start their own business or look for a better secured job.

I have suggested some of my friendly owners that rather than trusting only their close relatives, they should offer a certain percentage of their fortune to their long term skilled employees. For example, if an owner has started a 4 lines factory with his employees and within 10-15 years he increases his capacity to 4/5 new units and 100 lines of factories, he really needs his trusted midlevel management to run the show. And just in case if he could offer tiny 5% of his new unit’s share to his trusted employees, they also could have the ownership. By this 2 things would happen simultaneously. The skilled employees would never think of becoming new entrepreneurs to start own business and for the rest of his life they will be a trusted partners. Only few factories have done so, and they have got amazing results.

How foreign national dependency could be better managed:

First of all, we should have official survey may be by Board of Investment along with some other  government authorities to find out the exact numbers of legal & illegal foreign nationals working in the sector. This survey will take time and money. By this we can detect the expected & unexpected reasons of hiring foreign nationals.

Secondly, the foreign nationals must pay proper income tax to Bangladesh Government. To encourage recruiting local people, Government should increase the tax on foreign recruitments.

Thirdly, our different textile institutes should improve their syllabus with the contemporary technologies. Bangladesh University of Textiles should take a lead here. They should prepare the graduates to understand the beats of new fashion, retail marketing, global economy, global recession, product presentation, research & development, language proficiency etc.

Most of the times we have found that the fresh graduates have bookish knowledge and they don’t have enough training on the latest technologies. To enrich the skill of the graduates, the universities should make a bridge with the local top level professionals time to time to share their contemporary knowledge. By this the graduates will be well aware before they jump in the RMG sector. They are wasting huge amount of time learning by ‘trail & error’.

Finally, the RMG Sector’s shareholders must invest in the Research & Developments both in house & in the textile institutes based on the contemporary technical problems arising every day. We cannot confine ourselves with only few derivatives of basic fabrics, where our competitors are offering thousands of fashion trends. In the western world the universities get their funds from the relevant industries to study problems during their higher studies. It’s a two way benefits, the University gets the scholarship funds form rich industries or companies. And the Industries get innovative solution of their problems.

In conclusion:

Being optimistic, based on above trends I am pretty sure that the Textile graduates who are coming out from the different institutes may not replace the foreign nationals in a very short time. But, as long we have seen few of the fields have been occupied only with the Bangladeshi textile professionals;  they will be  slowly replacing all of  foreign nationals  by next couple of years.

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