Systematic Training of Sewing Industry Operators – An Introduction

This is a guest contribution from Paul Collyer

To profitably run a garment production factory an effective operator training system is essential; however many companies either have no facility or one that is not fit for purpose to meet the demands of the modern industry. Training can take two separate identities, the giving of skills and knowledge to new recruits and the upgrading of the abilities of the existing workers.

High labor turnover in the first few days of training is often reported but is something that can be actively attacked and reduced. It is a symptom of poor selection, ineffective initial training or a combination of both. Pre-employment tests such as dexterity and eyesight are essential but must be allied to structured trainability assessment. The ability to absorb, remember and act upon information is crucial if training is to be worthwhile but unfortunately, not all applicants will have these qualities. Not everyone can be trained to become a sewing industry operator? Thirty minutes spent assessing a potential recruit will save wasted time, effort and money by eliminating unsuitable people.

A closer look at the existing operator training system:

After recruitment the initial stages of training are crucial. If a new trainee is allowed to sit around and wait, learn in an unstructured way, learn the wrong things or learn slowly then high labor turnover will occur as those motivated to progress, (the ones you want to retain) will become frustrated and leave. Additionally, those recruits who are prepared to sit around and work slowly (the ones you do not want) will stay in a version of reverse selection. Training times will also be extended with graduates poorly equipped for the demands of the production lines. If a factory has an initial training program of more than one-week duration then it is probably training in an incorrect manner creating problems in the production area and costing considerable sums of money. (The salary of a trainee is almost irrelevant in the training process. The real cost is the loss of output and therefore recovery of overheads due to extended stays in the training area).

The effective operator training format:

To achieve a throughput of recruits in a short time that is able to perform to required standards of output and quality requires a dedicated and specialized facility that follows a systematic training policy. Such a facility will be cost effective as it supplies valuable workers to the line and will dramatically reduce training times and enable recruits to work to sensible performances.

Training should be conducted by specialized, suitably trained instructors that work in both the initial training area and in lines as required. All training will be conducted on fabric pieces and will from the first activity expect trainees to work to speed and quality standards. To implement such a regime the trainee/instructor ratio must be reduced to a 3:1 to enable the required amount of time to be dedicated to each trainee. Such a ratio will increase the flow of trained recruits as they are typically sent through in one week with minimal losses against the often used 1:20 that leads to losses and six to eight week training periods.

After one week recruits will typically go to the lines but they must not at this point be abandoned by the training staff. Additional trainers should, working on a 1:10 ratio support the new workers until they can achieve the prescribed performance targets (75-80%). Supervisors do not have the time and expertise to work with new workers. These trainers may not, dependent upon the flow of new workers be fully occupied. This is when they can work on the most cost effective phase of systematic training regimes, the improvement of low-performing existing operators.

A low performing operator can be defined as one who is not achieving the required standards of performance i.e. quality and/or quantity. Every factory has low-performing operators that cause bottlenecks, missed deliveries and quality problems. These workers are not considered to be idle or inadequate but that they have problems for which they need help and support. A suitably trained instructor working within a systematic training facility will be able to problem solve and work with the low performer to increase their abilities. Such an instructor will repay their salary many times over if correctly deployed.

A systematic training program is an essential part of the management structure of a garment production factory. Without such a facility the manager will not be able to fully meet his objectives. Many managers recognize by utilizing data from labor cost control systems that they have a training or skill problem in the lines but do not have the assets to do anything about it. Trained instructors give him that ability to positively address problems as part of a performance improvement initiative.

Also see: Implementation of Systematic Training for Sewing Industry Operators

About the Author

Paul Collyer is a UK based garment industry trainer and consultant specializing in manufacturing, productivity and improvement initiatives. He has 42 years industry experience in Industrial Engineering, Factory and production management, and consultancy. He worked as a consultant with CAPITB, the UK government approved garment industry training board for 13 years before going freelance in 2001. Paul has worked extensively in the garment industries of the UK, North Africa, Middle East and Asia. Paul can be contacted on paul.collyer[at]

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