Myanmars footwear sector currently employs 20,000 people

Myanmar's footwear sector currently employs 20,000 people

New skills programmes and increased foreign investment in footwear manufacturing in Myanmar appear set to generate growth in a sector that, to date, has lagged behind the country’s garment industry.

"Several shoe factories have opened in Myanmar in recent months and I believe the sector will expand quite rapidly," explains Khine Khine Nwe, secretary of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association (MGMA) and joint secretary of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI). "Myanmar’s garment sector is far more developed, as it was the first labour-intensive industry to be promoted in the country."

She adds that growth may have been hampered thus far due to the costlier, more complicated machinery required for producing footwear, as well as a lack of skills.

Indeed, Myanmar’s industry ministry operates garment and traditional weaving training centres, but is yet to do the same for footwear, so MGMA is using a privately-run factory to provide space for a new training programme.

Myanmar has 28 factories producing leather and sporting footwear for export, including the US brand Hush Puppies: 19 of the factories are foreign owned, plus one joint venture involving a Japanese and Myanmar company. The bulk of foreign investors are from South Korea, China and Taiwan.

Meanwhile, factories producing footwear for the domestic market consist of slippers and sandals and number 4,000, but are comprised of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that employ around 5-30 workers.

"Myanmar still has a very limited number of factories that produce footwear for export. We’d like to see more growth," Khine Khine Nwe says.

Since Myanmar launched a series of economic and political reforms in 2011, the number of factories producing shoes for export has increased by 20% every year and the sector currently employs 20,000 people.

"But we need a training centre to better promote the industry. Garments relied on private factories for training courses before we were able to lease a factory from the ministry of industry for this purpose two years ago. We hope the same will happen for shoes, but I don’t know when or if the ministry of industry will agree. But I would say that the government is keen to expand any sector that provides job creation, and the science and technology ministry is now very active in TVET [technical vocational education and training] initiatives," she says.

Myanmar’s cooperatives ministry sent five footwear trainers to Indonesia as part of a skills development programme that took place in May.

This trilateral TVET scheme, which also includes garments and traditional weaving, is funded by Indonesia and Germany’s GIZ, which is a federal enterprise which supports the German government in promoting international cooperation for sustainable development abroad. Tomorrow (12 August), two Indonesian coaches will visit Myanmar to oversee how the newly trained trainers are implementing the programme.

Khine Khine New says that the ultimate goal is for the trainers to pass on their newly-acquired skills to others in the sector so that more factories will begin producing export quality shoes.