Several billion dollars in salaries and allowances of top level foreign employees are flying out of the country every year as the technical education provided here does not meet the requirements of the growing readymade garment sector in Bangladesh.
An unpublished study of Dhaka University and The Centre of Excellence of BGMEA estimates that the 34,340 expatriates holding top positions in RMG factories are remitting around $2.36 billion they receive in salary and allowances.
Business insiders say the total figure will be much higher as the study did not take foreigners working in buying houses and other garment-related organisations into account.
The amount the foreigners in RMG sector are remitting is almost one-eleventh of the total export earning of RMG sector in a year.
Besides, the remittance flowing out of the country is about one-eighth of what Bangladeshi expatriates remit to the country.
Universities, technical institutions can provide textile and garments-related education to around 25,000 to 30,000 people, which owners find ‘too little’ considering the requirement of the industry.
Moreover, these locally trained people have hardly sufficient managerial and communication skills,
RMG entrepreneurs say they are dependent on expatriate employees as the expertise and specialised skills of local employees do not meet the requirement.
‘We need to appoint foreigners as Bangladeshis lack specialised skills like communication, negotiation, marketing, decision-making and operational skills,’ said BGMEA Centre of
Excellence chief Atiqul Islam, also a former president of BGMEA
Director general of Directorate of Textile Mohammad Ismail paints a grim picture when he says that in 2017-18 country’s apparel sector faced a shortage of about 1.47 lakh skilled manpower from floor to the executive level.
‘This situation will get even more complex if the shortage persists as it will be 1.82 lakh by 2020-21,’ he said.
Former BGMEA president Anwar-Ul-Alam Chowdhury Parvez predicts that the RMG sector will be needing eight lakh specialised employees by 2021, which will be very difficult for them to get from local sources.
The sector will need 1.89 lakh graduates and textile experts for top positions by 2021 while Bangladesh will be able to produce around 40,000 by the time, he adds.
Country’ education system, both general and technical stream school, colleges and universities, has badly failed to create skilled labours for the garment sector in order keep foreigners away from jobs, Dhaka University faculty of business studies dean Shibli Rubayat Ul Islam observes.
Shibli is also chief research adviser of research titled ‘Employment of Expatriates and its Alternatives in the RMG Sector of Bangladesh’.
The study estimates that a total of 34,340 expatriate employees are working in the RMG sector in different positions such as CEO, CFO, general manager, senior manager, head of dyeing, head of washing, and head of quality assurance.
It is also estimated that total salary paid to foreign employees is $2,359,983,090 per year.
It said that owners employed 1 to 100 foreigners at the factories.
The study made the estimation based on data from 87 RMG factories, two focused group discussions and 10 key informant interviews to find out the skills required for the midlevel management having the potential to be the successor of expatriate employees.
Citizens of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, Turkey, Philippines, Taiwan and others are working at the factories, with those from Sri Lankan and Indian predominating.
‘Compensation package offered to them by our employers is far more handsome and attractive than the package offered to local employees.
‘Expats working in top management position is found to receive 2 to 5 times higher compensation package than that of local employees working in the same position,’ the study says.
RMG sector employs over four million people in 5,000 factories of which about 60 per cent are women. The sector started its journey as an export-oriented industry in the late 1970’s and gradually got pace in the 1980’s.
The sector currently exports products worth $28 billion a year, more than 80 per cent of county’s total export earnings.
The study says that number of specialised educational institutions, in particular those providing textile and garments-related education, is too few when the RMG is the country’s largest employment sector.
It mentions that annual enrolment at universities offering RMG relevant educations is 1,528 in a year.
Bangladesh University of Textiles enrols 160, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology 50, BGMEA University of Fashion and Technology 520, Atish Dipankar University of Science and Technology 150, Daffodil International University 120, Shanta-Mariam University of Creative Technology 200, Sonargaon University of Bangladesh 120 and Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology 208, it says.
‘Considering the number of employments offered in the RMG sector, this is in no way adequate,’ says Shibli.
‘Most of the quality university graduates from universities easily get jobs,’ Parvez finds.
Bangladesh Technical Education Board controller of examinations Sushil Kumar Paul said that about 24,000 students took part in the four-year diploma courses exams in textile technology and garment design and pattern making treads.Atiqul and Parvez both emphasised need-based education to cater for the need of RMG and others industrial sectors. ‘You cannot meet the demand of top and mid-level positions with people coming out with diploma courses,’ Parvez says.
Centre for Policy Dialogue research director Khondaker Golam Moazzem thinks that lack of skilled manpower in the sector is taking toll on the country.
He cites a CPD study in March this year that shows that foreigners are working at 16 per cent of RMG factories in Bangladesh.
Madrassah and technical education secretary Md Alamgir admitted that there was a huge gap between education and what the country’s readymade garment sector needed, especially in the top management.
‘It is matter of concern that many foreigners are working in the garment sector and taking foreign currencies out from the country,’ he noted.
‘We are trying to address the matter in the upcoming grand plan for technical and vocational education. We are updating curriculum keeping the issue in mind,’ Alamgir said.