August 14, 2010

USAID-Funded Apparel Center to Provide Training to Thousands of Haïtians

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is an independent agency that provides economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world in support of the foreign policy goals of the United States. The Washington, DC-based agency provides assistance in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Near East, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe and Eurasia. Many people, for justifiable reasons, criticize the effectiveness of USAID’s programs and policies aimed at helping the world’s most underserved population. While I can write a book about many of USAID’s failures, and several have been written, I wish to discuss an initiative that has the potential of being one of USAID’s successes.

On August 11, 2010, USAID announced the opening of the Haïti Apparel Center (HAC). The new facility will help Haïti grow its private sector workforce by training more than 2,000 professionals per year to help meet the need for skilled workers in Haïti’s garment industry. In addition to providing vocational training, the center will further enable Haïti to maximize the benefits of the Haïtian Economic Lift Program (HELP) Act signed into law in May 2010, which improves U.S. market access for Haïtian apparel exports.

According to the USAID announcement, “In the 1980s there were about 150,000 garment workers in Haïti; now there are around 20,000. The value of Haïtian apparel exports to the United States in 2009 amounted to roughly $512 million, employing more than 25,000 Haïtians. The HELP Act, which has been widely supported by Congress, significantly expands Haïti’s trade preferences to the U.S. It also promotes investment in Haïti and supports the rebuilding of the garment sector which was significantly damaged over the years due to political unrest and more recently by the earthquake. According to a Congressional Research Service report issued in June, rebuilding costs for the industry are estimated at $38 million to refurbish damaged buildings, replace machinery and train new employees.”

The HAC is part of “Konbit Ak Tet Ansanm” (KATA), a four-year, $104.8 million USAID designed and financed job-creation initiative. In partnership with CHF International, it provides training and improves manufacturing skills of workers involved in the textile industry -- including sewing machine operators and mechanics and quality-control supervisors. The facility also offers executive seminars to senior managers, factory owners and leaders in the business community.

All applicants take a test on dexterity, color blindness, basic literacy and numeracy. Students who are accepted as sewing machine operators are then enrolled for a six-week course that includes training on how to work in a formal work environment and a curriculum developed by [TC]2, one of the leading associations that represents garment buyers. After graduating from the program, students will be highly sought after by employers. In advance of its formal opening, the HAC has trained more than 50 sewing machine operators, and 13 operator trainers have already graduated. All of these students are now employed -- and the operators now rank among the top performers in local garment assembly plants.

The more than 6,000-square-meter HAC facility was provided by the Government of Haïti and renovated and operated by USAID partner CHF International-Haïti. It is located in the SONAPI industrial park -- minutes from the garment factories in and around Haïti’s capital of Port-au-Prince and close to workers’ residential neighborhoods.

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