Bangladesh needs to enhance its productivity and efficiency to face the challenges of fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and to retain competitiveness in the global apparel supply chain, experts underlined even as they maintained the need for huge investment to develop skills of garment workers, especially women, and upgraded technology.
They also opined that many workers might lose their jobs for the adoption of new technologies but this technological shift would also create opportunities and employment while adding that the factories that are using upgraded technologies are providing more productive and competitive businesses.
Participating in the virtual event, they came up with these observations.
“Bangladesh should forget and come forward from preferential market access-based competitiveness to focus more on productive and efficiency-based competitiveness,” underlined the Research Director of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Khondaker Golam Moazzem, adding Bangladesh was yet to give adequate attention and preparedness in this regard which it needs to do in the coming years. He also added while explaining the challenges that many workers might lose their jobs due to automation but the 4IR is not replacing the jobs of workers, rather, it is creating opportunities for them to join in better jobs by obtaining higher skills training.
Local apparel makers have so far invested in advanced technology which is good, but most of them have to cater to traditional market-based products and processes, he noted while suggesting that apparel makers need to get ready for the challenges at the global level by enhancing their competitiveness through productivity and efficiency, instead of market access-led competitiveness.
CPD Executive Director Fahmida Khatun, on her part, stressed enhancing productivity and efficiency and investing on skill development, especially for woman workers, while adding that if Bangladesh wants to be competitive with other competing countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and China, productivity and efficiency are the key preconditions in order to compete at the global level.
Meanwhile, a recent World Bank (WB) report also maintained that Bangladesh’s manufacturing sector risks becoming uncompetitive because of lower productivity and its reliance on low labour costs as wages are rising locally and the use of labour-saving technologies is growing globally.
The export-led manufacturing growth model will remain central to Bangladesh’s sustained growth and job creation, but continued reliance on low labour costs to maintain the competitive edge is increasingly untenable as the country consolidates its middle-income status and its wage costs rise, the WB said in a report titled Gearing up for the Future of Manufacturing in Bangladesh, while adding that simultaneously, major global trends — the growing use of labour-saving technologies, shifting trade patterns, and the increasing use of services inputs in production — are reducing the importance of wage costs in determining international competitiveness and in this changing manufacturing landscape, Bangladesh risks becoming uncompetitive on both the wage and non-wage dimensions of productivity as it seeks to diversify its export basket and move up the value chain.
The manufacturing sector needs to focus on the transition from competing on wages to competing on productivity, underlined the World Bank.
Taking the above observations into consideration, one would infer that given the existing scenario, there’s not many alternatives left for the industry but to increase efficiency and productivity to remain relevant in today’s fast-changing landscape.
So, what are the stakeholders doing in this regard?
“Every year our cost of production is increasing, minimum wage has also been revised several times but we have somehow not been able to enhance our productivity which is one of the major impediments for the sustenance of the industry,” agreed Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) President Faruque Hassan even as he added that lack of enhanced productivity was one of the major impediments for the sustenance of the industry and against this backdrop, Faruque said the BGMEA has initiated a centre on efficiency innovation and occupational health and safety, a network to integrate productivity and occupational safety and health, called NIPOSH.
The NIPOSH initiative is the first stepping stone toward our centre of innovation and efficiency, underlined the BGMEA President while adding that the project intends to develop a network of professionals in the RMG industry and create a culture of collective consciousness alongside building a strong connectivity amongst the factories.
The project is funded by the Embassy of Denmark, Bangladesh, in collaboration with University of Southern Denmark (SDU) and BGMEA and, is being jointly implemented By Centre of Efficiency, Innovation and OSH (BGMEA) and Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology (AUST) even as a total of 25 factories were onboarded in this project and the first phase factory visit has also been done, during which, NIPOSH team has collected some basic data from the manufacturing units.
Prof. Dr. Muhammad Fazli Ilahi, Vice-Chancellor of Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology (AUST) said network meetings are an integral part of this noble initiative to have enhanced productivity with improved occupational health and safety in the garment factories of Bangladesh.
“We hope together we will be able to reap the benefit outlined in the project objective. I appreciate this industry and academia collaboration, which will help the curriculum revision and development,” said the Vice-Chancellor of AUST.
Simultaneously, in another development, the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) of Bangladesh and the BGMEA University of Fashion and Technology (BUFT) have also signed an agreement over launching of diploma courses with the aim of developing the professional skills of mid-level managers and employees of readymade garment factories.
Under the agreement, the BUFT would introduce three post-graduate diploma courses on garment business management, industrial engineering and manufacturing system and supply chain management even as the BGMEA and the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) would select 35 students for each course while the Commerce Ministry would provide financial support for the post-diploma programme even if the duration of the courses would be of six months.
According to reports, EPB Director General Khaled Mamun Chowdhury and BUFT Pro-Vice Chancellor Ayub Nabi Khan signed the agreement on behalf of their respective sides.
So, even as when some stakeholders are collaborating to improve efficiency and productivity through trainings and education while at individual levels factories are trying to implement and imbibe new and upgraded technologies, Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Business Network (SBN) Bangladesh, a platform chaired by Ministry of Industries, is partnering with ‘Strengthening Workers’ Access to Pertinent Nutrition Opportunities (SWAPNO)’ and project of GAIN (Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition) and World Food Programme (WFP) to take more holistic approach in addressing the nutrition and food safety of the RMG workers even as a study has found that ensuring nutrition of garment workers can increase the productivity by 20 per cent, which can be one of the key competitive factors for sustainability of RMG industry in Bangladesh.
“Reference to my previous e-mail on the population demography of Bangladesh, I have mentioned about the ongoing establishment of the Centre of Innovation, Efficiency and OSH at the BGMEA Head Office in Uttara, Dhaka,” maintained the BGMEA Chair in an email to Apparel Resources, while adding, “As we all know that the manufacturing and business process is evolving, global fashion and trading pattern is also highly dynamic. On the other hand, we have so many areas to improve efficiency, which does not only include labour productivity, but also use of technologies, management and business processes at large. There are areas where basic knowledge can bring significant impact, while we have huge gap in terms of skilled professionals and supervisors. As the global manufacturing and retailing is disrupted by fourth industrial revolution, our investments today need to be based on prudent analyses, so financial and business excellence will also be crucial in the coming days, where sensitisation and awareness among the entrepreneurs are also felt important.”
He further went on to sought inputs, underlining, “The centre will primarily provide soft skill trainings and capacity building to the industry professionals of different tiers, from entrepreneur to supervisor level. Since, we are planning the training programmes and curriculum, we felt the necessity to understand the views and take inputs from the stakeholders….”
Given the multiple approaches by host of stakeholders towards improving efficiency and increasing productivity through technology, skill development, trainings and other aspects, it is just a matter of time, before the industry is able to make marked improvement towards achieving higher efficiency and productivity to ensure sustainable growth and competitive edge in the global arena.