Blog: Leonie BarrieSri Lanka hones its skills

Leonie Barrie | 8 November 2007

Training and educating workers for the apparel industry can sometimes seem like an uphill struggle. On the one hand education providers are, not surprisingly, expected to align their curricula, training and education provision to the needs of the industry. On the other, however, they can’t be expected to train for the needs of the industry unless they know what the industry wants.

The problem is compounded by the fact that across the world, curricula and examinations are set by the staff working within the academic institutions – many of whom have very little practical experience of industry and how it works.

So the new training manual from Sri Lanka’s Joint Apparel Association Forum is quite an achievement, setting out detailed specifications for nearly 140 jobs in apparel production. It has taken months to research and compile – and now the industry has not only made its findings public but is prepared to share them with manufacturing competitors around the world. 

When I first visited the country in 2003, I was amazed at this spirit of co-operation, and the fact that many apparent competitors manage to work together in professional partnerships. At the time the industry was gearing up for life after quotas, and despite being concerned for their future, the attitude of most companies I visited wasn’t to grumble about change but to embrace it instead, recognising that the industry has to continuously develop to stay ahead and attract more customers.

And develop it has. In the intervening years Sri Lanka has committed to the world’s first ‘green’ garment factories, it’s embraced a socially responsible ‘Garments without Guilt’ manufacturing policy, new textile parks have been set up to balance a shortfall in locally produced fabrics and accessories, and the industry has even spread its wings to set up industrial zones in India. 

I’m due to head back for a return visit next week, for a series of company meetings along with time at the Colombo Fashion Fair and the Sri Lanka Apparel Institute's Fabric and Accessory Sourcing Exhibition (FASE). It’ll be fascinating to see for myself how much progress has been made in four years.


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