In the wake of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, which is changing the business models of the past at an alarming rate, the need for reskilling employees is unprecedented, observes Polytex Garments Limited Senior Group Human Resources Manager Indika Gamage.
Gamage is among the case study presenters on ‘Reskilling for the future’ at the upcoming Employers’ Symposium to be held on November 9 at Oak Room, Cinnamon Grand, organised by the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) under the theme of ‘Repositioning Sri Lanka- Meeting the Employment Challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution’.
This year’s theme of the EFC’s symposium is aligned with the changing business paradigms resulting from the technological advancements, particularly in the realms of information and communication. The symposium will draw experts from some of the leading EFC member corporates who will bring with them the experience and new ideas on employment-related issues, with the ultimate objective of finding sustainable solutions that would enable employers to incorporate best practices and employment strategies suited for their organisations.
Gamage points out jobs need to be created around evolving areas such as artificial intelligence, digital printing, robotics and bio gene development for example. “It is estimated that 200 million jobs are to be lost in the next 15 years. Therefore, we need to rethink, reskill and upskill our current workforce to meet these modern job demands.”
Gamage, who will be sharing his case study at the EFC’s Symposium, will be providing insights into a ‘win-win situation’, which is generated by employee empowerment at
“Ours is a 37-year-old apparel company specialized in the manufacturing of cotton T-shirts with a workforce of 5000 employees and operating in four locations. It was also a highly unionized company and unleashing the potential of employees was not easy,” explains Gamage, who cites the company’s success story in ‘changing the employee perceptions’ and thereby gearing them to meet future competition and reskilling them for new job openings.
Implementation of waste reduction strategies through lean management practices and having ‘built in quality’ in place to be a successful competitor in the market are also to the credit of Polytex Garments.
Despite the private sector being ahead of the public sector in terms of manufacturing, as a country we are still far behind the rest of the world, asserts Gamage. “In the apparel sector, which I represent, a lot is being done presently to integrate new technology with human resources and one of the key challenges in this process is the ‘grooming’ of employees to fit into middle management and supervisory positions.”
The onus placed on the government in bridging the skills gap cannot be underpinned, observes Gamage, who further remarks that while school and university curricular should be upgraded to reflect future business demands, law reforms, which are conducive to the generation of jobs should be in place.
“The apparel industry is largely female-driven and present labour laws are not female-friendly. For example, flexi working arrangements such as a four-hour-a-day shift could be realized; it could attract at least 3 percent to 5 percent more employees.”
While urging for collaborations between the academia and industrial professionals to mitigate the gap between these two domains, Gamage reiterates the need for a multi-skilled workforce to cater to the global competition. “This competition is at its peak today and we need to optimize our efficiency levels to be on par with competitors such as China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, etc.”
One of the main challenges for the private sector in the country is to integrate into the global cost competition in a backdrop of low levels in productivity across industries, asserts Gamage, who commends interventions of the EFC such as the upcoming Employers’ Symposium, which facilitates the delivery of insights and perspectives of the private sector to the legislators and policymakers of the state sector.
“Such perspectives could influence the change of the current landscape of the private sector to harness increased talent and generate more job opportunities.”