Building An Industrial Workforce in Ethiopia

The workshop convened on June 18 with 95 participants drawn from brands, factories, government, academia, development partners, UN agencies and the private sector. The event was overseen by Dr. Arkebe Oqubay, Rank of Minister, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister’s Office and the discussions covered the current situation and future trajectory of the industrial workforce in Ethiopia. In his opening remarks, Christian Rogg, Head of DFID, Ethiopia noted that the Ethiopian labour market was something of a mystery, where market forces do not necessarily ensure that an abundant labour supply always matches the demand.

The first presentation during the workshop dealt with the situation in the Hawassa Industrial Park, outlining the main labour-related challenges faced by investors. This was followed by a presentation on the historical experience of countries such as Bangladesh, China, Mauritius and Singapore that had all faced similar challenges in the course of their industrial development. An academic presenter also dealt with issues of work culture, skills, productivity, managing expectations and retention and noted that in Ethiopia the production structure had changed faster than employment.

Another academic presenter discussed the empirical evidence around the world on what worked in addressing productivity challenges in manufacturing. The importance of incentives, motivation, working conditions and management were emphasised. These presentations were followed by presentations in session II, where development partners presented current programs.  The first presenter described their existing labour sourcing and recruitment interventions and the lessons that had been learnt. In response, new programmes on human resource management, women support services and matched savings and loan schemes were being developed.

Another development partner outlined a three-year textile industry training project that will train 1,000line supervisors, 500 quality controllers, and 200 maintenance experts. The third presentation stressed the importance of industrial relations in overcoming constraints such as limited labour-management communication and grievance handling, low wages and poor working conditions. Participants were then broken up into five working groups.

The discussions covered attracting and retaining workers in industrial jobs; social inclusion, migration and vulnerability, and absorbing workers into the municipality; human resource management and industrial relations as well as skills, productivity and prosperity. The groups met and discussed issues and recommendations for the afternoon session and group leads prepared their report backs overnight. In his concluding remarks, Dr Arkebe Ekubay emphasized the focus on industrial parks, on labour retention and managing expectations. “There are no shortcuts,” he remarked, referring to the long-term commitment required to build an industrial workforce supported by robust evidence.