Bangladesh’s expat connection!

Is the Bangladesh RMG sector dependent on expats? Viewed in the light of the recent media reports, one is but forced to accept the sector’s reliance on foreign expertise still!

An unpublished study of Dhaka University and The Centre of Excellence of BGMEA reportedly estimates that there are 34,340 expatriates holding top positions in RMG factories, who are remitting around US $ 2.36 billion in salary and allowances. Leave aside the ones employed in numerous buying entities and are still unaccounted for. A lot of these expats are from countries like India, Sri Lanka, Turkey etc.

In the last few months, Apparel Resources spoke to industry insiders to get an insight on this issue, and one thing that came out strong is that, it is scarcity of quality human resources which has increased the country’s dependence on foreigners.

Growing at a break-neck speed, Bangladesh’s readymade garment industry (the second biggest apparel exporter globally), is yet to effectively deal with the demand-supply scenario, especially in the middle management. Given the present dearth of skilled manpower (25 per cent according to some reports), garment manufacturers are left with little choice which leads to over-dependence on the expatriates.

As per the Directorate of Textile (DoT) report published in 2015, apparel sector has been facing a shortage of about 0.11 million skilled manpower, from floor to executive level, which could well touch an astounding 1,82,000 by 2021, if adequate steps are not taken.

“The industry has been suffering a massive shortage of qualified and skilled manpower. That’s why the Government has decided to create fashion designing and merchandising departments in private and public universities. But it will take time to fill this gap, considering the huge demand. May be another 4-5 years,” opined Prof. Dr. Engr. Ayub Nabi Khan, Pro-Vice Chancellor of BGMEA University of Fashion and Technology (BUFT).

Hit by the quality manpower crisis, some organisations are even planning their very own training facilities. Chorka Textile Limited is one such name. “Any investor can get new and upgraded machines, but what about the operators?,” quizzed Eleash Mridha, Managing Director of Chorka Textile Limited, as he continued, “A lot of people are hiring technical experts from Sri Lanka and other countries. However, they are expensive; expats are also not long-term solution.”

Says Syed Diganta Munir, Director of UH Trendz Limited (a buying house planning to foray into garment manufacturing), “In Bangladesh, lower-skill level training institutes are numerous but those for middle-level are handful”

However, given the increasing focus on manpower development, things might change for better in the coming days, Munir feels. “In the last four-five years, a number of good institutes from overseas have opened their branches here, including India, which is very encouraging,” observed an alumnus of National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) from India.

“Bangladesh garment industry has been struggling to find the right people for mid-managerial jobs. When BGMEA founded the BUFT in 2000, I was involved with it. I worked there for 7 years and know how difficult it was to identify the right area to work on. After spending 7 years in BUFT, I realised mid-level management is the core crisis Bangladesh industry has been facing,” explains Sheikh Md. Nizam Uddin, Principal of College of Fashion Technology & Management (CFTM), who has started his institute focussing on developing the middle-management.

The industry seems to have little option currently which is why it is handing out fat pay cheques to the foreign professionals. Considering the existing scenario, it would take some time to develop the local talent pool. Till then, expats would continue to be in demand, or so it seems.