Closing the Gender Gap in Automation Empowering the Future Workforce through Upskilling in the Garment Sector

The rise of automation in the global garment industry poses a significant threat to the livelihoods of workers, particularly women who constitute 75% of the workforce. The International Labour Organization predicts that sewing automation alone could displace 65 million workers worldwide. Women in the garment sector, often employed in lower-tier positions like helpers and sewing machine operators, are particularly vulnerable to job loss.

Overcoming traditional gender roles and limited access to higher education is a major hurdle for women seeking new opportunities in the changing job landscape of the garment sector. In response to this challenge, Shimmy Technologies, a women-owned social enterprise established in 2016, has taken the initiative to address the impending displacement. Through digital, mobile, and tablet-based training, Shimmy aims to upskill and reskill women in apparel supply chains, providing them with the necessary tools for the future of work.

Shimmy’s mobile-first training approach offers flexibility compared to traditional paper-based curricula, enabling workers to adapt to the rapidly changing market dynamics. By focusing on technical training, Shimmy becomes a catalyst for empowering female workers to transition into advanced operator roles, challenging the existing workforce paradigm.

In 2022, The VF Foundation supported Shimmy’s pilot program in Bangladesh, targeting unemployed women and assessing the effectiveness of new training solutions. The program strategically identified technical training centers in different cities, including Dhaka, near garment factories. Shimmy’s research project, the Apparel Automation Pulse, played a crucial role in aligning training content with industry needs by identifying current and future machines used in factories.

The positive outcomes of the pilot program underscore its success, with 452 out of 500 trainees being women, and over 55% finding employment in the RMG supply chain within six months. Only 23.19% of those without jobs in the RMG industry were actively seeking employment after the training period. The rest opted for alternative paths such as homemaking, further studies, or exploring opportunities in other industries.

Building on this success, The VF Foundation has named Shimmy as a 2024 grantee, committing to expanding the upskilling initiative to include 500 more workers through mobile phone-based training and an additional 800 through physical training centers. This collaboration exemplifies the power of partnership, aligning with VF’s commitment to empowering women in its supply chain and advancing a shared vision for a more sustainable and equitable future for women in the apparel industry.

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