Garments exports lagging behind in global context

KARACHI: Being the highest value-added sector in the textile value-chain, ready-made garments bring in substantial amount of foreign exchange for the country. But a number of constraints have stagnated the sector’s export growth particularly in light of rapid developments in global consumer preferences.

The surprising part is that in some cases there is excess demand, but Pakistani manufacturers are unable to fill export orders. Two industry specific issues warrant the undivided attention of policymakers as well as the private sector: raw material and skill-set.

At the same time fashion preferences have led to computer aided design and techniques such as automated cutting. While there is certainly a dearth of textile training institutes, even the ones in place have a long way to go in terms of imparting modern production practices.

Ideally, the first step for a country when coming up with macro-economic labour policies is the direction. There must be a vision in place which identifies the local competitive advantage and then works to utilize vocational institutes into developing that specific composition of skilled labour.

That direction has largely been absented in Pakistan. The National Vocational & Technical Education Commission (NAVTEC) came up with the National Skills Strategy 2009-13 but experts say the body has yet to realise its aim of bringing structure to the TVET sector in the country.

In Punjab the two bodies responsible for skills development are the Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA) and the Punjab Skills Development Fund (PSDF). As with all government departments, co-ordination between both of these provincial bodies and NAVTEC is missing.

Then there is the issue of conducting a proper gap analysis to identify the relevant skills needed for each sector and product. According to Ijaz Khokhar, Chairman of Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (PRGMEA), each piece of garment such as trousers, shirts, suits, martial arts requires separate skills.

This holds additional significance in light of spurring industrialization in the context of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The Chinese are in need of skilled labour as their plan is to mostly bring middle and senior level management.

However, they have been unable to find the proper human resource so far especially when it comes to factories that will produce higher value-added products like shirts and suits. The need of the hour is to develop garment training institutes while aligning the objectives of all government departments to identify the gap in skills and work on removing them.