Jute means jobs in Bangladesh

Thought the Bangladesh Jute industry was a thing of the past? Think again. The industry needs more and more skilled staff and an innovative partnership supported by ILO between Panchagarh Technical School and College and a leading jute company is helping meet this demand.

Feature | 17 August 2016
Jute workers jump for joy
According to Gem Jute’s COO, Retired Colonel Munayem, “To produce 50 tons of jute a day in India requires 1,000 people. The same quantity requires 2,000 people in Bangladesh because of their lack of skills.”

Currently, the Bangladesh jute industry employs about 500,000 people and earns annual revenue of USD $620 million. However, local demand has almost doubled, with the new government policy to package rice paddy, wheat, fertilizer and sugar in jute sacs.

Gemcon Group established Gem Jute, a jute-processing factory (spinning and weaving) in Panchagarh, the economically depressed northern-most district of Bangladesh, in order to create jobs and alleviate poverty in 2003. Gem Jute procures about 60 million kgs of raw jute to process annually for the export market and could potentially enhance production but for several challenges: load shedding for 5-6 hours, unavailability of gas and lack of skilled labour.

Skilled workers are able to perform better and improve productivity, but in Bangladesh there is a lack of training opportunities available so most training is done on the job which is not as effective.

Our factory has a demand for about 200 new workers every year, due to turnover.
That means that with 250 jute factories in the country, an average of 50,000 workers with these skills are needed annually, even if the market doesn’t expand. Gem Jute currently has 2,000 employees and is looking to double their work force soon.

To address the lack of skilled workers, Gem Jute has partnered with the Panchagarh Technical School and College (TSC). Together they have developed the curriculum for a training course for jute mill workers and piloted the course with two batches of students. Panchagarh TSC administers the course and graduates from the course are guaranteed jobs with Gem Jute and paid more than entry-level workers. The curriculum has been submitted to Bangladesh Technical Education Board for approval, and once it is approved, this course may be taught at other technical schools and colleges. The course includes technical skills such as how to operate the machines, and soft skills such as health and safety, basic numeracy and literacy.

Panchagarh TSC did not have the machinery needed to teach the students, so the course location was split – half (the academic, theoretical, soft skills portion) was taught at the TSC while the other half (the technical part) was taught at the mill itself. This Public Private Partnership, facilitated by the International Labour Organization and supported by the Canadian Government, is a model of how industries may play a role to help address the skills gap in Bangladesh. Other industries may learn from this example and reach out to government technical training institutes to provide training support and jobs for students. Such partnerships can lead to a better match of skills available among the young working population, a win-win situation for all.

ILO Bangladesh Skills for Employment and Productivity (B-SEP) Project, funded by Canada, is working with the Government of Bangladesh to create a skilled labour force by making skills accessible to all. Haripada Das is a Senior Skills Development Specialist, Bangladesh Skills for Employment and Productivity (B-SEP) Project, ILO Country Office for Bangladesh.