As obvious as it may be -assuming you’ve been stymied in your efforts to find a sewing contractor- you may still be surprised to know that the apparel industry is suffering from a labor shortage. I spoke last week with Michael Londrigan of SAI (Social Accountability Intl) and we discussed the issue at length. Today, I spoke with Debra Goodwin at GIDC (Garment Industry Development Corporation) who concurs. The root problems are myriad but everyone agrees that most of the shortage is due to laid off workers having secured other employment after the downturn. Of course the NY industry faces other critical challenges, specifically acquiring leases and escalating rents. Accordingly, the GIDC has to be more proactive offering vocation and technical training classes -free. Debra mentions the classes are always overbooked, particularly the sample making classes.
Key to maintaining a vibrant design and fashion industry in New York are the workers – especially skilled workers. Cost-cutting by garment producers and little to no investment in worker skill training, means the industry is now experiencing a skills shortage. Nevertheless, interviews with workers and enrollment rates for GIDC´s vocational training courses indicate that workers are interested in improving their skills and ability to perform in the industry. GIDC/SAI surveys of workers (2005) indicate that, despite the low wages, garment-factory worker respondents like the flexibility in their jobs provided by employers who value their craft. Improving factory management of production and their ability to attract orders can help stabilize production across the year; this is key for attracting and retaining more workers who are looking for stable, annual income. One factory owner posits that such improvements could help his workers earn 50% more – enough for them to no longer ask for partial payment in cash.
Working intensively with a small group of New York City garment producers to provide in-depth training and technical assistance (TA) to both managers and workers SAI, GIDC, and Systain propose to:
- improve working conditions,
- improve factory management and service delivery,
- sharpen workers´ skills and ability to give input to management on factory improvements, and
- work with factories to develop an innovative business model for improving production and services and to assist them in obtaining financing to upgrade equipment & plant.
What surprised me once I started looking, is that the apparel industry labor shortage appears to be international. If that’s the case, one positive outcome is that it is conceivable that demand will slowly eliminate sweatshops. First from India:
Exporters here get orders worth about Rs1,000 crore annually but are unable to execute the orders due to unavailability of tailors here.
…till 2004 we used to export readymade goods worth only Rs 100 crore. We now execute orders worth Rs 250 crore. But we cannot meet bulk orders owing to manpower shortage,” ..
And then surprisingly, China:
China : Garment industry faces shortage of skilled workers
Each year Chinese garment enterprises face shortage of sewing workers, this year being the most. In order to find skilled workers, companies adopt recruitment ways like the newspaper, labor markets, and many factories employ directly at their own factory entrance. Shaoxing, Hangzhou and Wenzhou cities in Zhejiang and Jiangsu and Anhui provinces and some other provinces are facing scarcity of workers for clothing industry.
In the case of China’s labor problem, apparel production will increasingly be compounded by demographic factors.
China Scrambles for Stability as Its Workers Age
The proportion of people 60 and older is growing faster in China than in any other major country, …By midcentury, according to United Nations projections, roughly 430 million people — about a third of the population — will be retirees.
That increase will place enormous demands on the country’s finances and could threaten the underpinnings of the Chinese economy, which has thrived for decades on the cheap labor of hundreds of millions of young, uneducated workers from the countryside.
Michael asked me if I was doing anything to deal with the problem. I told him that all I could do was encourage people to start up contract facilities rather than design operations and to suggest they hire whatever retired workers they could get to train them and get their enterprises going. This is the reality in the outlands of the US and Canada. So, if you’re interested in starting up a production shop, definitely get in touch with your local incubator for start up resources. And let me know too. I provide referrals as I’m able.