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Upskilling for the Future of Work: Bridging the Gender Gap in Garment Sector Automation

Press Release

Garment workers globally face potential widespread displacement due to the increase in automation. According to the International Labour Organization, sewing automation alone could displace 65 million workers globally. With women making up 75 percent of the global garment workforce, the bulk of the loss of jobs will be roles held by women. Additionally, women in the garment industry often work in lower-tier roles, such as helpers and sewing machine operators, making them particularly vulnerable to displacement. When looking to find new jobs, women face challenges due to traditional gender roles and limited access to higher education acting as barriers for entry to higher-paying jobs within the garment sector and beyond.

To address this challenge, Shimmy Technologies, a women-owned social enterprise, was founded in 2016 to prepare women working in apparel supply chains for the future of work through upskilling and reskilling via digital, mobile and tablet-based trainings. Shimmy’s mobile-first training approach is more flexible than traditional, paper-based training curriculum, the latter which inadequately addresses the rapid changes in the market.

Shimmy’s focus on this technical training component acts as a key unlock to assist workers in developing skills and gradually increasing their income. The majority female-led Shimmy team serves as role models to empower female workers to enter advanced operator roles. Their approach aims to reshape the workforce from the ground up, challenging the current status quo.

In 2022, The VF Foundation supported Shimmy’s pilot program across Bangladesh to reach unemployed women and assess the effectiveness of new training solutions to upskill and reskill women to provide them with the opportunity to enter the ready-made garment (RMG) industry. The program identified technical training centers in different cities across Bangladesh, including Dhaka, and located near garment factories in the area.

In addition, Shimmy carried out its research project called the Apparel Automation Pulse to identify current and future machines used in factories. This information helped Shimmy create a demand curve for machine-based skills, which in turn, informed the content of the training programs to align with the specific needs of employers.

The pilot yielded positive results. Of the 500 people who went through the training, 452 were women, and over 55% were employed in the RMG supply chain within six months. Of those without jobs in the RMG industry, only 23.19% were looking for work after six months. The remaining trainees opted to stay home as homemakers, continue with other studies, or enter another industry.

As a result of the success of the pilot, The VF Foundation recently announced Shimmy as a 2024 grantee to expand the upskilling of 500 more workers through mobile phone-based training and an additional 800 within physical training centers. This growing partnership with Shimmy exemplifies the power of collaboration, that complements VF’s work to empower women in its supply chain, and drives forward a shared vision to ensure a more sustainable and equitable future for women in the apparel industry.

This press release was issued by VF Corporation February 26, 2024. Additional industry coverage is available here and here. Shimmy Technologies is a member of SPESA.

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