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Put your trust in Bangladesh

  • Published at 01:01 am October 4th, 2019
RMG Workers

Why developing management teams is crucial to success

“Always develop from where you are -- don’t chase the dream of a brighter future.” 

Wise words from Dr Torbjörn Netland, head of chair of production and operations management at the ETH Zurich University, at the recent World Textile Forum, held in Zurich this September.

It is with this sentiment in mind that I was drawn to consider how those of us involved in senior management roles within the Bangladesh RMG sector can best utilize one of the resources that we have in abundance -- namely our willing and capable workforce.

Since its foundation, the RMG sector has enjoyed rapid expansion, reaching an audience of international buyers and contributing to 83% of our nation’s GDP, employing about 4 million people, and contributing over $32bn to the economy.

Our garment industry is now the second-largest, globally, and the largest apparel exporter to the EU, but we need to be investigating ways to ensure that the sector remains fit-for-purpose over the years ahead and develop by diversifying into multiple product categories rather than be reliant on the core basic product.

It is undeniable that the global retail industry has changed drastically, placing huge pressure on the entire supply chain to be lean and efficient -- often resulting in our local manufacturers complaining about the purchase price buyers are willing to pay. 

Although, we are all culpable for the situation -- if we do not develop products that command a higher retail value, we cannot complain about the prices that buyers are willing to pay.

We are operating in a commodity market and now is the time for the RMG industry to shake off the shackles of the price-sensitive product market, handing that baton to other emerging garment manufacture regions and consider other product areas to explore. 

The key to this, is addressing the development of the people working within the RMG industry. 

All of us involved in the RMG sector are facing challenging times and it is my belief that companies now need to develop the skill sets of middle management teams in order to ensure the longevity of the industry.

As an industry, we need to be developing our product development prowess locally. For too long we have developed a reliance on the services of a considerable number of expatriates, employed on high salaries in Bangladesh.

The RMG industry needs to develop a structure that enables the appropriate product development to come from within the local companies, supported by all levels of the management team, and not reliant on the services of intermediaries or from customers.

Alongside product development prowess, but no less important is the need to nurture the basic business skills of our management teams. 

A concerted, consistent investment in the training and nurturing of the talent that we, as a nation have, will result in higher buyer satisfaction, product innovation, greater exposure to the retail markets and, most importantly, higher prices for production being paid by buyers. 

Our local, often disaffected research and development (R&D) talent needs to be developed and companies need to establish an environment where their product development skills, negotiation techniques, market awareness, and customer skills are nurtured, encouraged, and retained for the long term.

Development of these skill sets will only come through training and exposure to customers and the wider market, and it is the responsibility of senior management to ensure that effective training programs are in place for the entire management level of their organization.

The development of management teams will require investment and additional costs to companies, but it will be an investment for the long-term good of the industry. 

Effective management teams would, within a short time, start contributing to all aspects of the business, from R&D to customer relations and sales, as well as, efficiencies throughout the whole production chain.

Combined with this increased investment at the management level, we need to have confidence in the gifted employees we have. Steve Jobs, famously commented: “It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Something all of us in upper management can bear in mind!

Aside from the development of product management skills and basic business acumen, the RMG sector cannot ignore the need to develop flexibility and efficiencies within our manufacturing procedures.

There has been much discussion about the benefits of the adoption of technology to aid efficiencies within the Bangladesh apparel supply chain and, although some systems offer advantages, we should not lose sight of the fact the “technology potential should not outweigh technology usage,” Dr Torbjörn Netland.

Rather than subservience to economies that can be made through the industrialization of our industry, perhaps we should be investing in the development of the skilled workforces we have already in existence on the factory floor.

The investments made by the Bangladesh RMG industry over the last six years have been substantial. 

Whether they are following remediation imposed after the tragic Rana Plaza disaster or to comply with individual customer’s requirements, the industry has little to show in terms of support from brands and retailers who have continued on a path of demanding lower cost prices.

Now may be the time to radically shake up our thinking, and start to invest in our most valuable asset -- our management teams to develop a broader range of product types and break away from the industry’s reliance on commodity basic items.

I see no reason why we cannot break away from the perceived view of Bangladesh as a solely mass production resource and develop a more multi-faceted industry for the long term success of the sector.

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 protected]

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