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Upskilling RMG workers to offset invasion of automation

Due to the industrial 4.0 revolution almost all the industries are in a race to switch to automation. And the worker dependent textile and apparel manufacturing industry is no different.

From the way fashion is designed to finished fabric, automation is replacing human or reducing the human workforce into a handful. This frenzy is also quite apparent among the millennial and gen Z ‘Instagram Age’ consumers.

Upskilling RMG workers offset automation
Figure 1: Switching to automation is increasing rapidly.

This all seems smooth! But in the manufacturing factories, this story does not depict a happy state. As consumer’s choices are shifting rapidly, retailers no longer need six-month manufacturing cycles of high volume ‘mass’ products.

Rather manufacturing small quantities monthly, with greater flexibility and offering more fashion goods at a cheaper rate to attract more consumers at the expense of workers a livable wage.

One of the leading apparel exporting countries in the world Bangladesh – world’s second-largest exporter of ready-made garments for the global fashion industry after China – has reduced factory units as little as 500 from 600,000 units within a short period of time due to increase in expenses in energy, workers wage and most importantly price reduction by the global retailers.

The future of female apparel workers is in serious jeopardy due to automation and cheap priced fast fashion.

Upskilling RMG workers
Figure 2: A survey by McKinsey Apparel, Fashion & Luxury Group showed an 80% reduction in the labor force in the future.

It is a global example that women made up 80% of the RMG workforce in Bangladesh, but the above-mentioned reasons have seen this figure reduced to 53%, according to a CPD study.

“In 2018, McKinsey Apparel, Fashion & Luxury Group surveyed US apparel executives and international procurement officers and projected that simple garment production will be fully automated by 2025, resulting in an 80% reduction in the labor force,” said Sarah Krasley, Founder Shimmy Technologies at the recently concluded  Bangladesh ‘Fashionology’ Summit.

“If that estimate holds true, it leaves us with less than six years to transition approximately 65 million workers to new ways of making a living – many of whom have no marketable skills and limited digital literacy,” Sarah added.

The summit raised the issue of catalyzing the digitalization in the apparel manufacturing sector in Bangladesh. And urged the international stakeholders, brands to join local factory owners, experts to devise a future framework to mitigate this situation with upskilling workers to offset the invasion of automation.

Many pioneering factories already have taken the initiative to run pilots to educate workers and to equip them with new technologies.

initiatives by BD textile & apparel to Upskill RMG workers
Figure 3: Initiatives by BD textile and apparel industry to upskill RMG workers.

New York-based Shimmy Technologies recently ran beta pilot tests in garment factories with the aim to transit the female workers to higher-paid roles and protect them from job loss as automation continues to be implemented in garment factories.

In the summit, the founder was asked why she chose Bangladesh of all countries. “The country that didn’t laugh us out of the room when we proposed Shimmy Upskill be piloted in factories,” Sarah said proudly.

This shows how perceptive Bangladeshi manufacturers are, and a sense of responsibility towards their workers and to the world. Which was vivid in summit also.

Another significant move was taken by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) to implement the digitized wage payment system of all the garments workers by 2020.

The digital payments move will help to empower the garment workers, especially women who represent the majority of the workforce.

The western notion of putting Bangladeshi factories and owners as thugs and inhuman working conditions along with mistreatment is needed to be changed. As Bangladesh has the largest number of LEED-certified green garment factories in the world and Bangladeshi manufacturers set an example in sustainable apparel manufacturing.

If anyone has any feedback or input regarding the published news, please contact: info@textiletoday.com.bd

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