The country's apparel industry is now overwhelmed with export orders following the reopening of economies around the world, which has created around 3 lakh new employment opportunities.
Industry insiders said almost every factory is hiring workers to cater to the growing demand of their buyers in a short lead time.
Work orders for the forthcoming summer and spring seasons have already surpassed the pre-pandemic level by 15-20% and exceeded exporters' capacities as buyers from the US and European markets are placing more orders to fill the empty shelves of their stores in the wake of a rising demand for goods, they mentioned.
The sharp rise in work orders from the two major destinations for Bangladeshi apparel has also created opportunities for manufacturers to negotiate better prices, they added.
"The industry needs about 10% – which will be 3 lakh in number – additional workers to meet the increased number of work orders," said Shahidullah Azim, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
"Following vaccination in the USA, the EU and the UK, most of the stores have reopened but they are struggling to meet the increased customer demand for not having enough collection. That is why everyone wants to source goods within a short time," explained Azim.
The BGMEA leader, however, stressed the need for creating skilled workers.
"The industry needs skilled workers to produce clothes as per clients' requirements, but we do not have enough training centres to produce skilled and semi-skilled workers," he said, adding that if the government focuses on workers' skill development, the apparel industry will be able to create more job opportunities.
According to the Mapped in Bangladesh – a research-based initiative for the export-oriented RMG industry, 3,384 export-oriented apparel factories in the country have employed around 26.68 lakh people.
Referring to the rise in work orders RMG workers' leader Nazma Akter said after a long time, a large number of factories are now running double shifts.
She also said buyers are placing more orders in Bangladesh as they are not willing to take any risk by placing orders in Myanmar due to political uncertainty there. Most of the other competitors are still grappling with Covid-induced challenges, which also has created an opportunity for Bangladeshi clothing manufacturers.
Fazlee Shamim Ehsan, vice-president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said, "As large numbers of orders are coming to Bangladesh, we should choose and pick high-value products. It is high time we increased the profit margin instead of producing high volumes of goods."
After talking to entrepreneurs, The Business Standard has come to know that a number of factories have expanded their capacity by up to 40 lines and some are planning further expansion within this year.
Besides, some factories have resumed lines that were shut during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Shovon Islam Shawon, managing director of Sparrow Group, said, "We have expanded our production capacity amid the pandemic and recruited about 2,000 people.
"This month, we have introduced six more lines, taking the total number of lines to 86."
Sparrow Group has also sent some orders to three subcontractor factories after taking buyers' approval, he said.
He also said they are getting better prices now – in some cases, the price hike is about 6%.
No compliant factory is suffering from a shortage of work orders at present, Shovon noted.
Sharif Zahir, managing director of Ananta Apparels, said they are getting better prices from new buyers and new orders but the prices are still 15-20% down in the case of repeated orders.
Abdullah Hil Rakib, managing director of Team Group, said they have established a new jacket factory with a capacity of 85 lines, and 63 lines are already in operation with 8,000 people.
"It was started with 18 lines and most of the workers have been recruited since July 2020 amid the pandemic," he told TBS.
"We have also started the construction of another LEED platinum denim factory with a zero discharge washing plant, having a capacity of 22 lines. We have a plan to start commercial operation of the unit by December next year."
SM Khaled, managing director of Snowtex Group, said, they have recruited about 5,000 workers during the pandemic and now the number of their employees stands at around 17,000.
"We are planning to recruit another 2,000 people within the next four months," he said.