Apparel industry adjusting to the shifting gears of time, requirement and priorities
In the last two issues of StitchWorld, Dr. Prabir Jana, NIFT Delhi has been highlighting the gross neglect of technology in garment manufacturing organizations, stressing that there is probably overemphasis on HR and management interventions. The reasons behind management functions gaining prominence, is the increasing inter-industry movement of top-level executives, no capital investment involved, ease of comprehension by top management and popularization by consultants. The reasons behind overdoing HR in place of technology is compliance mandate from buying houses, compliance initiative from NGOs, and to overcome the shortage of manpower. The reasons behind technology getting marginalized were cited as lack of knowledgeable experts in technology improvement and additional capital expenditure. StitchWorld quizzed several experts on specific questions related to the issue…
Personnel Department in garment manufacturing companies has merely graduated to HRD. Is this transformation being looked at as overdoing HR?
Rajesh Bheda – I don’t think that this transition can be termed as overdoing HR at all. Garment industry is a labour-intensive industry and it needs to give sufficient attention to human resource management. This is especially important these days as finding and retaining workers is becoming difficult in the garment industry. In fact what is being done under HR is still at nascent stage, and much more focused work is needed in the area of HRD as at the end of the day “Your supersonic jet aircraft is only as good as the pilot that flies it”.
Paul Collyer – I agree that HR has grown in most RMG companies and replaced “personnel” but the real problem in India is that the role of HR has not been defined. It has become a major power; and while the components of the role such as compliance and working on retaining workers is crucial, it should be remembered that it is production that “pays the bills”. HR when related to the production areas, as against the other parts of the organization, should be a service to production and not a separate entity with its own objectives. May I give the (true) example of an HR Department that was targeted to recruit 60 workers every week and duly did so, but production did not need that many recruits and the training area was totally incapable of processing such quantities. Result – training area had 20 machines and recruits sat idle for 2 hours before working for 1 hour and then again returning to waiting!
Devadas P M – I agree with majority of the point of views shared by Dr. Jana. However, the factors that led to these need to be analyzed one by one.
Our country is not the India which we saw 25 to 30 years back. That was the time when people were queuing up in front of the factory in need of a job, largely to take care of hunger. Some of the people who started as operators later turned out to be supervisors and production managers. They had sewing as well as managerial skills, developed over the course of time. That was the time when the number of B.Tech engineers or NIFT-ians available in the apparel industry was limited.
Today hunger is not the prime motivation for work. The welfare schemes offered by the Government, like NREGA, etc. prompt them to stay back in their village with their family and relatives. Many are not willing to migrate to a city. Those who do so can’t afford to live in the city with mere minimum wages. Many of them in cities like Bangalore and Chennai send their children to English-medium schools paying huge amount of fees. Therefore, they expect higher wages and better standards of living. Some of the HR activities (welfare measures) that Dr. Jana had mentioned are to be seen as a helping hand by employers to offer a better living to those who sweat it out for 8 to 10 hours daily. We as managers should feel proud about this good act for someone who is working with you for years. That is our responsibility to our employees. You may call it welfare or HR or CSR. If you need to get employees to run your factory, you need to go with the wind. 25 years back I had seen workers of an apparel factory in UK coming for work daily in cars. How many years will India take to reach there? But in those countries the industry itself disappeared. So at least if we offer a good quality of life, the operators will work happily for the organization. However, the extent to which the buyer who is talking about compliance, welfare and CSR is ready to pay extra remains a constraint.
Badri Narayana – I do not think this is overdoing HR, it is a transition of moving from IR, Recruitment, Payroll Management to People Management. With focus on compliance-related requirements and a drive for improvements coming from buyer’s side, the organization has to move on, get into HRD and eventually OD to be competitive. In general, there’s a prevalent trend in the industry for being prepared to retain both buyers and growth. I do not believe of any overdoing of HR without a clear context. An example of overdoing HR is dishing out increments and promotions with no performance linkages. A 360° OD intervention will encompass buyers or customers, people and technology.
S Badri Narayana, Director – Operational Excellence, FLAME TAO Knoware, has rich industrial experience of over two decades spanning a wide field covering project management, product development, techno-commercial marketing and quality assurance systems.
Ganesh CK – No technology intervention is likely to produce exceptional results, if there are no related HR intervention(s) complementing these. Plurality for HR interventions is critical, as these will have to address the entire Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In fact, the other element of HR intervention here is the “needs of the entrepreneur/board” itself. Much of angst expressed in the article is also because of this latter aspect which hasn’t got its due space and importance. Regardless of levels, humans have a herd tendency. Employee engagement activities as a means to an end (better productivity, higher profits), and not supported by an underlying philosophical connect to employee engagement will not yield any sustainable results. In fact context-less incentive programmes have made most of employee-employer relationships quite transactional these days… This is across many industries.
Aisshvarya – I believe this topic is skewed. If a garment manufacturing company is targeting effective results – can “technology” or “management” do without support from each other? Is there an option to choose from between the two? Whether it is a technology improvement initiative or “HRD” initiative – the failure or success depends on goals identified, planning and execution. The process of designing and executing a technology improvement initiative or a “HRD” initiative is a science. A consulting firm or consultant may have mastered it, and practicing it with such grace and flow that it looks like an art (management).
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Is there a separate budget allocation for different activities like ‘technology upgradation’ and ‘training/re-training’?
Rajesh Bheda – This depends on the organisations. Most do not have a separate well thought-out budget for training. It is looked at on ‘need basis’, and funds are allocated based on the urgency of the training need. Whereas technology upgradation is something that would have some allocation done in advance as factories do give it relatively more attention. For example, phasing out non UBT machines, adding a few specialized machines, etc., have to be planned. This is especially done for technology solutions with well-established ROI/payback period. In last decade substantial investments have been made by companies in computerized product development and cutting. Information technology has also seen significant investment; these are investments in technology. As cost of labour is constantly going up, many companies are going for labour-saving technologies or solutions that deskill the manufacturing processes/assure quality and consistency.
Devadas P M – Yes, we do have different allocations for technology upgradation and training as they are addressing two different issues. To elaborate, technology upgradation is done to meet the buyer’s requirement about the product, productivity, quality and delivery. Whereas, the industry has training/re-training requirements for new employees recruited for capacity addition or replacement of an employee who has left. Trainings are also done to improve the skill level of low performing employees. Additionally, new operations associated with the changing styles also bring in training requirements
Ganesh CK – Very often, interventions and training sessions focus on “What” is being done, to be done and not on “Why’s” and the “How’s” of the interventions… To me, that is the core issue.
Badri Narayana – There are budget allocations whenever there is a growth/foray planned for very much different categories, say from woven to knits or to jackets, etc. This is linked to growth, competitive and hence limited to a few companies. It is more often than not exigency-driven and minimalistic.
Has there been a cautious distinction between training and welfare? Some of the activities mentioned by Dr. Jana under the aegis of HR, actually ‘fall under the category of staff welfare’…
Paul Collyer – HR is very much about welfare. For operator’s recruitment, HR’s role in training should be adhering to a plan laid down by the production team. The operator training department should be responsible for production, not HR. For all other trainings, HR should play the role for coordination and training provider identification. Again, training should be the responsibility of each individual line manager and not HR.
Badri Narayana – I think there is a clear difference between training and welfare. Welfare is providing amenities and the like to employees for better care, suitable environment, well-being and safety. Training is a separate activity done externally and on the job. These are distinct. However, some of them do lie under the purview of staff welfare.
“Technology is an all-time requirement as it is continuously evolving, whereas on the management expertise once the right DNA is set over a period of time, it only needs coaching and mentoring, and in mature organizations it can be internally facilitated. As there is so much competition and changes in terms of fashion, technology needs to be evolving to be in sync.” – S Badri Narayana, Director – Operational Excellence, FLAME TAO Knoware
Ganesh CK – HR interventions may have to be categorized between those impacting factors of Hygiene (absence of which cause dissatisfaction, but presence of which need not cause satisfaction) and those of Motivation (Herzberg’s two factor theory). Factors that regulation and compliance are pushing are often those of hygiene factors, from a sociology angle (e.g. no child labour, limitations on work hours, etc.).
Do you agree that there is a shortage of experts in technology consulting? Do you agree with Dr. Jana’s observation that consultants are offering services in management areas and not technology? Have you used services of any ‘technologist’ during the last 5 years? Can you list down the type(s) of services you may have used from the consultants during the last 5 years?
Rajesh Bheda – There is indeed a shortage of consultants in technology consulting. Traditionally, garment companies relied on the technology suppliers to propose the options and then negotiating the price for buying machines. The focus generally was on buying basic equipment at competitive price than doing thorough analysis of the features of the equipment offered against needs of the organization. One of the limitations here is that most of sales staff of the machinery suppliers are not technical experts and are not able to guide the users very well. This is where a technology expert/advisor can play a value adding role for garment companies.
In regards to consultants offering services in management areas than technology, yes it can be said that there is greater demand for management consulting than pure technology consulting. However, consulting firms with domain expertise, provide both technology as well as management consulting advice.
Paul Collyer – No, I can think of consultants being unable to secure work. The problem is, as Dr. Jana says, that companies are unwilling to pay or use consultants in this field.
Devadas P M – I agree with most of the points. There are not many Indian technology consultants available in India. Most of them are expats who have spent more than 40-45 years in the apparel industry in many roles starting as operators. They have grown up in a systematic and disciplined environment. Not many Indian engineers or apparel technologists are ready to take up a role like this. We have availed the services of these technologists in areas like fit development, sewing technology, industrial engineering, training, machine experts, etc. The sudden growth of India is offering faster growth to many of our youth, making this an unattractive field. The growth offered by software industries and other related industries make them shift their career.
The most preferred jobs of a fashion technology graduate joining the industry are merchandising, retail buying, planning, etc. How many of them are prepared to work in a factory in a technology role for more than 5 years? Even if anyone does that, what is the growth that he/she gets in comparison to his/her peer who has joined a buying house or a retail setup?
We also observe a dearth in the number of technology subjects taught in colleges to create technology experts. Most of the topics are centred on fashion sketching, trends, merchandizing, costing, yarn spinning, weaving, fabric processing, etc. Not many colleges modify the subjects based on the job opportunities available to their students either.
One of the colleges in south India, where I am a member of the board of studies as an industry expert, increased the number of papers on industrial engineering from one to two when we highlighted that 80 per cent of the students are joining apparel manufacturing. One of the colleges in Bhubaneswar didn’t have a single subject on industrial engineering and they found it difficult to include them as they are not autonomous and getting an approval from the university is not easy.
We also have excellent machine mechanics or technicians who are not B.Techs or NIFT-ians. What is required is an aptitude to do those jobs and an attitude to learn. It is also questionable as to how many mechanics can become maintenance managers or GMs. So what is practical is to form a team of someone with deeper knowledge on machines and a professional with managerial and technical abilities. The professionals in the industry have to mature from being a trouble shooter to a problem solver, further to a process improver and finally to a system improver. Only then will the industry benefit from them.
Badri Narayana – I agree partially. There are consultants offering technology on the project front and not as much on the operational front. As the nature of styles and categories vary so much that expertise is rather home grown or researched from the internet. There have been cases of companies hiring industrial designers to generate automation solutions.
“30 years ago, there was a time when people were queueing up in front of the factory in need of a job, largely to take care of hunger. Some of the people who started as operators later turned out to be supervisors and production managers. They had sewing as well as managerial skills, developed over the course of time. Today, hunger is not the prime motivation for work.” – Devadas P M, GM – Operations Excellence, Madura Clothing
Usually, technical expertise is found in technicians, sampling masters, in some cases in engineers, based on experiences and difficulties in production and in meeting performance requirements.
Technology consulting is rare in all sectors and not just in apparel sector as it is domain-specific and generally companies consult the suppliers and derive knowledge and/or latest information from them. Companies do build their own expertise and in niche areas they do request consulting services where services are available. In some companies they do have a department of R&D that handles this aspect in fair detail.
Do you also agree with Dr. Jana’s observation that cost of technology intervention is generally higher than management and/or HR intervention? Are there higher chances of ‘failure’ in technology intervention in comparison to management or HR intervention?
Rajesh Bheda – Let us not generalize by saying that cost of technology intervention are higher than management intervention. Technology intervention can be of various types. These could be specific solutions for particular operations, processes or much wider intervention. Based on the scope of the technological intervention, the investment will vary. So it’s difficult to say that one is more cost-intensive than other. Again the chances of failure also cannot be generalized. One of the most important factors that make significant difference to success of any project, say technology upgradation or management system implementation, is the top management’s commitment. The implementation of relatively new or unexplored technologies will have higher risk of failure than well-established solutions.
Paul Collyer – Usually, the outlay for technology intervention is generally higher than management or HR intervention. However, as far as chances of ‘failure’ are concerned, they are higher in management or HR intervention because with technology, one is dealing with an absolute. Whereas, with HR a softer and a less certain role is in question.
Ganesh CK – Management Fads is just a manifestation of this herd tendency. Many activities being adapted by companies under the garb of HR interventions (5% improvement in productivity!) is also due to this. It has given results there, but does not have much investment anyways; and thus the ‘karne do!’ attitude… Quite unfortunately, less the stake, lesser the accountability… and greater the angst.
Devadas P M – Yes, technology interventions are expensive as most of it is coming from overseas and the charges are in USD or Euro. The technology is also developed in those parts of the world and when we buy that equipment we need to use their services to learn. Most of these consultants have experiences of more than 2 to 3 decades. Management on the other hand is available at lesser cost as we have plenty of management institutions and young graduates pass out of them every year with excellent communication and soft skills. To be an expert in technology the effort required is at least five-fold.
If the organization does not nurture and retain the personnel trained on technology, all the learning will leave the organization as the individual leaves and that can cause ‘failure’ of technology.
Badri Narayana – No, I do not agree. A good OD intervention is also quite intensive and has an equivalent or sometimes more costs, as it is long-term. In today’s Internet of Things, (on the technology front) to a discerned searcher, a lot of adaptable solutions are available. However, to explore, there needs to be a self-drive and/or a deep need which OD enables. To address the chances of failure specifically are more in OD intervention as people may not embrace change or do things differently for better performance, any lasting change means everyone works and behaves differently to attain desired results, which is easier said than done. Whereas in technology there is always a learning, continuous improvement as based on any failure one improves it further, and once successful, it is there to stay. The method stays, till the next challenge or change comes in.
Aisshvarya – Depends on the depth and the extent of the intervention. The notion that cost is “high” suggests doubt in the mind of the user on ROE and ROI – doesn’t matter whether it is technology intervention or HR intervention.
Do you agree with Dr. Jana’s observation that management expertise is an all-time requirement, whereas technology expertise is only a one-time requirement in any organisation?
Rajesh Bheda – Technology needs assessment, and advice on selection of right technological solutions would not be a regular need, but at the same time it’s not a one-time need either. As the organization progresses, new needs are felt and expertise in this area would be needed. However the organizations also need expertise on how to use the technology to its full potential and this expertise needs to be developed in the organization. External expertise for the same may be needed. Indian garment industry does not have a very good record of using the available technology to its fullest potential. This also adversely affects the Return on Investment.
It’s true that management expertise is needed all the time. But the organisations hire professional managers for performing management function to deliver desired results. Certain organisations prefer to have management consultants to guide the internal management teams on on-going basis whereas others hire services of management consultants on need basis for specific advice or specific business need.
Paul Collyer – No! The frequency at which technology expertise is required depends upon the product, i.e. a man’s suit that rarely changes than in a “fashion” product. Also, methods should be challenged constantly.
Devadas P M – I disagree. It may be true in an organization dealing with commodity products where a technology is acquired and retained for decades. In today’s speed at which fashion and products are changing, it is in the good interest of the organization to have a full-time expert. This will help them to cater to the changing needs of the buyer or customer faster than anyone.
On the point that machinery suppliers give all technical help, this is true but they are also businessmen who want to sell their products. As Dr. Jana said, they would try to sell those which give them favourable benefits. An inside expert can evaluate various option looking at Lifecycle Cost and hence suggest the best suited.
Badri Narayana – No, I do not agree. Technology is an all-time requirement as it is continuously evolving, whereas on the management expertise once the right DNA is set over a period of time, it only needs coaching and mentoring, and in mature organizations it can be internally facilitated. As there is so much competition and changes in terms of fashion, fabrics, style construction and consumer shifts, technology needs to be evolving to be in sync. There is only so much that management expertise can do, whereas technology is vast, starting from simple problem solving work to innovations. To reiterate how can technology be a one-time requirement when there is continuous change in designs, construction, fabrics, embellishments and consumers’ wants and needs.
What are the kinds of consultancy assignments you have done during the last 5 years? What kind of ‘help’ the companies are asking from your organisation? Do you provide ‘training services’ or ‘consultancy services’? Have you done any ‘factory set-up projects’ or ‘technology upgradation projects’ in last 5 years?
Rajesh Bheda – Consulting assignments of Rajesh Bheda Consulting Pvt. Ltd. have mainly covered performance improvement strategy formulation and strategy execution. This has required us to look at how to optimize the usage of present resources including technology and human resource for generating maximum value for the organization while improving the customer service levels. We have advised our clients on selection of right technological solutions as well as partnering with them for optimal utilization of heavy technological investments as done in certain critical processes. We largely provide consulting services and some part of our business also consists of training services. We have been involved in a few factory set-up projects and technology upgradation projects in last 5 years.
Paul Collyer – Both… Although I am not sure where in the RMG sector training and consultancy have a divide; they should be intertwined and mutually dependent. As far as the ‘technology upgradation projects’ are concerned, we have undertaken these projects as a part of general productivity improvement initiatives.
Badri Narayana – The consulting assignments we have taken up have been on a model of teach-train-transfer and coaching till the best practice is part of regular activities, and are more of transformation, encompassing people, process (layouts and methods) and best practices. We have also set-up factory layouts and in the process explored technology upgradation. The kind of help we have been asked for, are in areas of Lean Implementation, Culture Building, Role Effectiveness, Factory Design, Improving Market Growth, Goal Alignment, and through these demonstrate high capability to buyers. All are linked to performance.