The European Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka (ECCSL) and the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) have launched a project to enhance local management skills in the clothing industry.

The 20-month project is co-funded by the European Union and comes under its Asia-Invest programme.

It will cover many of the points outlined in JAAF's 5 Year Strategic Plan, and is expected to result in productivity improvements and cost reductions in the manufacturing sector - as well as open up opportunities for joint venture partnerships and increased exports to Europe.

The project will provide around 30 selected SME apparel companies with practical assistance through a structured training and coaching programme which is specific to their needs. Part of the course content will provide an insight into doing business with EU firms.

Experts who have been drafted in to guide the project include Mr Derek Young, management consultant, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce; John Haycock, director of International Clothing Training & Consultancy Ltd and director of Glenmount Training Services; and Mr Keerthi Abeywickreme, chief technology officer, Sew Easy (Pvt) Ltd.

The programme's organisers believe that not only should the selected companies improve their competitiveness and retain or gain market share within the EU, but that a ripple effect will benefit the industry as a whole by encouraging it to adopt better management and business practices.

It is expected that participating companies will be able to improve their productivity by at least 15 per cent over a period of 12 months. They will adopt best practice techniques favoured by the EU's major retail buyers, including WRAP, SA 8000, and other ethical and social trading initiatives.