The Sourcing Map theory, in the context of apparel manufacturing, identifies regions and countries which have a very large scale of unemployment and extreme poverty. This is because among various manufacturing industries, apparel and garment manufacturing probably supports the highest statistics in terms of employment. This, among other reasons, has resulted in India becoming a large manufacturing base in apparel. Another significant contribution of our country lies in its rich heritage and tradition of colour, creativity, craftsmen and centres which represent volumes of historic design traditions and unique textiles and techniques.


Even today, the apparel and textile sector contributes close to 14 per cent of our country's exports and employs over 7 million people, the largest in the manufacturing sector. Traditionally, people seeking employment in the industry were among the poorest and least educated. As the global apparel and garment industry evolved along with consumerism, a high sense of quality, commitment and competition became an inherent part of the DNA.


While India boasts of a demographic dividend and an opportunity through its apparel and textile industry to provide growth, employment and foreign revenues, it must keep in mind that we need to run faster than moving ground under our feet. Numerous initiatives by various ministries are flooding the country and implementing agencies are available dime-a-dozen. Skill development in the apparel and textile sector is an opportunity, both in the organised and unorganised sectors.

The government is rolling out initiatives which can help the sectors create a skilled workforce, which is in a position to compete globally, and support the future economic goals and initiatives like 'Make in India'.



 

The industry, however, needs to respond and agree with this. While there are problems of seasonal demand and poor infrastructure, we need innovative entrepreneurs who can look at the problem as an opportunity. Apart from routine business, we would need to step out of our comfort zones, and work towards creating models which can engage and employ skilled people. This may mean relocation of manufacturing facilities, as we are seeing already. It may also mean skilling and relocating workers from poorer parts of the country, and providing housing and other facilities as some from the industry have done. It could mean sending job work to semi-urban settlements from where skilled workers may not be able to come to the industry on an everyday basis, but are more than willing to work.


Urbanisation will lead to pressure on limited resources, and this will lead to short supply of basic needs, which will in turn lead to higher costs of living. This is a natural economic behaviour, and the speed At which this is happening in our cities, we need to run faster. There are no limits to innovation, and that is how we need to work. Innovative ways to use the skill development platform need to be explored and sustainable models which provide work in the hands of the skilled need to be experimented with.



The organised sector

The organised sector in the apparel and textile industry representing different levels of value addition and employing a large number of people, today faces the challenge of competing with the rest of the world or being stricken off the list of future enterprises.


In such a scenario, each employee of the industry must be contributing value not only in terms of quality but also in terms of commitment, efficiency and design. A trained worker with the ability to deliver on international parameters and the aptitude to understand a changing environment apart from having a formal vocational orientation is the need of the hour.

 

The traditional workers in our industry have come from fourth and fifth generation tailors to know the need of basic operators. This has been driven by the implementation of manufacturing techniques of the assembly line being introduced into the garment industry in the late 1970s. While these techniques were being implemented globally much earlier, they were truly adopted in the Indian context in the late 1990s and early part of the 21st century.


Now operators, who comprise the largest percentage of employment in the apparel manufacturing industry, need to be skilled in order to make them eligible to compete in the context already mentioned. They need to understand the process of 'adding value' and efficiency, not just only in the product, but also in the process.


When the industry in India was being established, there was a limited ecosystem supporting vocational training, and people were recruited on basis of numbers rather than skill. Wages were low and margins high, and hence the limited need for innovation and value propositions.


Today, margins are low, availability of labour is also low, skills and efficiency are low, and hence an urgency to reposition. Maintaining our position in the global apparel and textile value chain requires constant upgradation, and the product mix and skilled workforce to deliver it too. Countries like Myanmar and some African nations are starting to build their industry on the skill development and training platform. While we never had that advantage in India when our industry began, we have it now.


In the ecosystem of manufacturing and therefore supporting the cause and campaign of 'Make in India', the element of skill development is now absolutely imperative. Various aspects need to be addressed while preparing an army of workers which will represent the backbone of the Indian manufacturing future.

 


Correct mobilisation and recruitment:

Workers in the apparel and textile sector represent a mix of both migrant and local workforce. The nomadic worker syndrome we have observed in the past few years, not only in India, but in all manufacturing countries, is a result of the economic depression of 2008, and the increase in costs of living across economies.


The worker is unable to meet his equation of employability with the given wage rates, and this is putting pressure on the wage rates itself. How does the industry counter this problem? We need to relook at the large pool of unemployed migrants who are now permanent settlers close to industry clusters. These people, mostly women, are unemployed and secondary bread earners.


The combination of stability and proximity to the cluster needs to be capitalised on through skilling them and inducting them in a scientific manner. The right match of aspiration, and industry wages and environment will prove to be a stable worker. In programmes conducted by us, we have large gatherings in which we try and address this for matchmaking for our industry partners. The effort is ongoing and we have new things to learn each day.

 

Correct training and induction:

From our experience on this journey, having trained over 10,000 workers for the apparel industry in various states, feedback from the industry has helped us understand that the first two months of stability are crucial. Companies that have taken initiatives in the right training and induction have landed up retaining more candidates provided by our training centres. There needs to be a soft landing and a hand holding.


Retraining and upgradation:

In our industry, buyers are demanding and styles are ever-changing. When we distribute work without retaining or upgrading workers, we create an unstable environment for them an environment in which they feel vulnerable to making mistakes. At that level, instability creeps in fast. Companies that have an ongoing emphasis on retention have normally shown ability to retain staff, and have been able to beat the problem of seasonal demand and, therefore, address diverse manufacturing opportunities like technical textiles, home textiles and outerwear to name a few. If we are to boost the 'Make in India' agenda, we will need to beat the seasonal demand problem by investing in the right approach.


Standard setting:

To lend credibility to the 'Make in India' concept, strong standards for product, process and skills are required. Institutions for standards setting, monitoring and incentivising need to be in place. In the skilling context, certification and recognition of skill (benchmarking the skill levels against national occupational standards) is critical. Workers' aspirations need to be addressed by the industry and efforts made to keep a happy and motivated workforce. If India is to emerge as a manufacturing superpower, we would need to have a motivated workforce.


Recognition of skill and the right benchmarking of the skill sets against national occupational standards will not only help the workers gain in confidence, but will also help the industry match skill sets and roles. This will make it possible to differentiate wage brackets and control costs. This will also help create a clear career ladder for workers which would increase motivational levels. A feeling of pride will be easy to induct in a motivated workforce, and without this feeling of pride for a product 'Made in India' we would not be living the dream in a true sense.


Documenting and tracking the workforce: Many companies are doing exit interviews of workers, and collecting data to understand the missing links. This is another very important aspect to create stability. An opportunity lies in mapping skills of workers, and identifying the training needs from time to time. In a learning environment, workers are able to see their future better and prove to be a strong pillar in the company growth.


The road ahead needs to be cemented with the right holistic development of each and every rung of the ladder in the value chain. Upgradation of skills, recognition of prior learning through a systematic and scientific method of evaluation and certification, and overall grooming are but a few aspects missing among the existing workforce that makes for India.

 

While India endeavours to maintain and sustain its position vis-a-vis China, it must not lose the advantage of the demographic dividend by getting skilling wrong. Investments will be helpful in creating platforms for exchange of knowledge in relevant areas, and while each country has its own competitive advantage, we are already seeing movement of workers across borders, as we have seen across clusters or factories.


Over the years, industries manage to bridge gaps in the competitive advantage across nations, and skilled workers will eventually if not in the short term be one such competitive advantage which would (do that). In one sense, therefore, investments from nations in their skilled workforce are a long-term investment in retaining the competitive advantage.


Recognition of skill and the right benchmarking of the skillsets against national occupational standards, will not only help the workers gain confidence, but will also help the industry match skillsets and roles. This will make it possible to differentiate wage brackets and control costs. This will also help create a clear career ladder for workers which would increase motivational levels.


The unorganised sector

Textile/apparel and related trades employ huge numbers of people in the unorganised sector. Here, in areas like MSMEs, SMEs, khadi, or the handloom, and handicrafts, there is not only self-employment through manufacturing, but also a legacy of tradition which has huge export potential for the country.


Our country is blessed with a rich heritage and crafts and textiles related traditions which have been sought after for centuries. Each state has a cultural history in the textile and craft sector. Looking at the way in which some clusters have developed over decades, we acknowledge that artisans have taken the next steps and become exporters. They have been able to convert their skills into market needs.


But on a closer look, we need to recognise that countries like Thailand, China and Vietnam have taken crafts and textiles in their unorganised sector to a significant level by creating companies which are like babies, having the ability to grow. We have populated the ecosystem with majority companies which are like dwarves, which have not been able to grow beyond the 1-2 crore size. They may be healthy in their own way as a company, but the country has not been able to make a mark as significant as China in many textiles and crafts from the unorganised sector.


Industry associations need to step up and align with good skill development companies in bringing in exposure and training at the manager and management levels. Here again, the next generations are shying away from the trades due to problems associated with it such as poor infrastructure, seasonal demand, changing design environment needs of the world, cost competitiveness, etc. Rather, the opportunity lies in bringing in technology and methods of industrial engineering, treatment of raw material, and correct design intervention which can sustain and grow these businesses.

 

Companies that are doing this are growing in size and health, while other remain dwarves. The missing training component needs to be mapped, while mapping and identifying state-wise, and sector-wise industry which can get a boost with inputs provided through training.


Today, global sourcing and retail companies are extending their roles and engaging in sustainability with vendors, while helping countries improve their standards by laying down standards and following it up. We need to recognise that countries like Thailand, China and Vietnam have taken crafts and textiles in their unorganised sector to a significant level by creating companies which are like babies, having the ability to grow. We have populated the ecosystem with majority companies which are like dwarves, which have not been able to grow beyond the 1-2 crore size. They may be healthy in their own way as a company, but the country has not been able to make a mark as significant as China in many textiles and crafts from the unorganised sector.


It'll be all about skillsets

To conclude, we have recognised the opportunity of 'Make in India', and as a nation the industry and government would be making efforts to achieve this dream. One of the backbones of the industry, its workforce needs to be skilled and brought at par with global trends of efficiency, quality, design, technology and overall attitude. The managers and management of smaller units need to be trained and exposed to the right set of values which will go a long way in creating sustainable growth. We need to aim at building businesses with long-term sustainability. Industry must step up and reiterate its belief in skilling its people in line with global trends, without which the true strength of our country in terms of its young population could easily convert into its biggest weakness.