The Bangladesh economy is growing at an extremely healthy rate. According to the latest figures form the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Bangladesh is expected to post a growth rate of 7.5 percent in 2018-19, and the ready-made garment industry will be a key engine driver behind that growth.
The industry has ambitious plans to expand in the coming years, with a target of USD 50 billion in exports on the horizon. We expect this target to be met, but there will be many challenges along the way. One of the biggest challenges we face is development of the people.
Like any growing economy, there comes a point where we have to begin truly developing our most valuable asset—and that is our human resources. Bangladesh will soon graduate to a middle-income country as it begins the next stage of its economic journey. Our people, their skills and the way employees are nurtured and developed will be integral to the success of our economy.
Looking at the world's most successful businesses, in every one of them you will find excellent people development programmes in place. That is no coincidence. Employees who are treated well by their employers, who are given good training, and who are provided with proper employee benefits are happier and more productive.
Various research studies on this issue have found that happy employees are up to 20 percent more productive than unhappy employees. Imagine adding that to the bottom line in our industry! All our factory owners should be asking themselves, are my employees happy? Am I fostering a happy—and productive—working environment?
What makes a happy employee? Again, summarising from the research here, it is about feeling like you matter, feeling that what you do as an employee has an impact on the workplace, and feeling that you are making progress in terms of your personal development in terms of a career path.
Now, readers might think that our RMG factories cannot be like the large blue-chip organisations of this world with their extensive people development programmes in place. My only answer to that is, why not? When it comes to looking after people, leading international blue-chip companies are the benchmark. These are what us, as RMG factory owners, need to be aspiring to.
We know that in the RMG industry, workers, many of them women, still work in challenging conditions. This is not just the case in Bangladesh—this is an issue in every garment manufacturing country in the world. Factory work of all kinds can be monotonous and gruelling, and when a large order comes in, workers may come under pressure to get the order out on time. Western brands can be demanding.
There is a concern that, against such a backdrop, we are in danger of losing valuable workers to the industry. Last year a major study was jointly carried out by Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) and the Ministry of Finance which suggested the country is facing serious skill shortages in its RMG sector due it its ongoing growth. This problem will become even worse if, as expected, Bangladesh takes up a sizeable amount of production from the downsizing of China's textile industry.
In our industry many expatriates work in managerial positions. Why cannot we be training and developing these people ourselves? Ours is now a mature industry, the second largest manufacturing exporter in the world. We should be able to produce the managerial talent from within, and the only way to do that is to cherish and promote people from the factory floor.
Governments such as those in Bangladesh also have a key part to play here. We need a nationally coordinated skills and training policy which adapts to the future needs of our industry and provides the managerial skills and technical knowledge to take our industry forwards.
However, I believe we as factory owners have the most important role in the skills and training challenge. People are the lifeblood of our industry. We need to provide them with good quality working conditions, to look after them and ensure they are fulfilled in their work.
Mostafiz Uddin is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the Founder and CEO of Bangladesh Denim Expo and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE). He can be reached at email@example.com.