US-Sri Lanka Fulbright scholarships for garment industry
From next year the apparel industry will receive Fulbright scholarships to top universities in the US, under a new fellowship programme. Last week, the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF), the private sector apparel industry representative body, and the US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission signed an agreement to start the JAAF-Fulbright Fellowship Programme.
“We have provision for both US and Sri Lankan scholars. So initially we will have at least two Sri Lankans going to the US and two US scholars coming to Sri Lanka under the programme,” said Executive Director of the US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission, Tissa Jayatilaka.
The selection of candidates for the programme is through open advertisements where fellowships will be advertised in newspapers and the US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission website. The board of directors of the Commission will pick out the final candidates.
The US-Sri Lanka Fullbright programme is a bi-national exchange programme between the two countries, where both governments contribute to finance the exchange of scholars.
The aim of the latest scholarship programme is to transfer new skills and expertise into the local garment export industry.
The JAAF says the garment industry needs to transform into a knowledge based industry to stay on top of competition and keep pace with global changes. To facilitate this process the industry needs an injection of specialised skills and a domestic knowledge base.
“The garment industry is now moving into a knowledge industry. The JAAF is trying to help this transition with the required input,” said chairman of JAAF, Ajith Dias, speaking at the signing of the JAAF-Fulbright MOU.
The local ready-made garment industry is already going through a period of transition. Factories are trying to progress from the basic assembling plant model into full service providers.
But leading garment manufacturers say the local industry needs to leap-frog straight into modern knowledge systems fast, to retain business in the country and remain profitable.
“The industry started in Sri Lanka as contract manufacturing and the manufacturers adopted the required manufacturing skills.
Then we saw a shift in business when customers started requesting other services in areas like sourcing, logistics and product development. From the mid-90s to 2005, manufacturing became only a small part of the full service we were expected to deliver.
This saw a shift from being contract manufacturers, to full service providers,” said Mahesh Amalean who is heading the JAAF, human resource development sub-committee.
Companies that could not adapt fast enough to these changes, have moved out of the business and the number of garment factories in Sri Lanka has halved from around 800 in the 1980s to around 400 by this year.
Amalean, who is also heading one of Sri Lanka’s biggest apparel exporting groups, MAS Holdings, says the speed of global change is such, the industry is already entering into a third phase of evolution.
“Now we are beginning to see another change. The brands that are winning are the brands that are putting new products on the table. To develop new products, to be able to innovate, a different skill and knowledge base is needed. We are looking for opportunities to develop these skills, to be able to cater to these new needs,” said Amalean.
“So we can now see the shift in the industry, from contract manufacturing to full service provider, to a knowledge industry,” said Amalean.
This latest change requires a much more sophisticated domestic knowledge base compared to the industry’s requirements at the start, as basic garment assembling factories.
The latest Fulbright scholarships will target people already in the apparel industry or in other sectors, that can help the local industry make this transition, by expanding and modernising the domestic skill base.