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South Africa: Clothing Sector Looks at Supporting Smaller Enterprises

Published date:
Thursday, 21 April 2005

The beleaguered clothing and textiles sector, which is losing jobs at an alarming rate as it battles to compete against cheap imports, is piloting a locally developed programme designed to make small, medium and micro-enterprises (SMMEs) in the sector more sustainable and productive.

SMME Potential will be launched later this month at 10 companies within the Clothing, Textiles, Footwear and Leather Sector Education and Training Authority (CTFL Seta).

The pilot phase will take place in the especially hard-hit Western Cape before being rolled out nationally, says CTFL Seta chief executive Dr Hoosen Rasool. The Seta will bear the implementation costs.

"Though the crisis facing the sector is immediate," says Rasool, "we can't only look for short-term, government-inspired solutions. SMMEs need to start thinking strategically or they will be under perpetual threat."

More than 30 000 CTFL jobs have reportedly been shed in the formal sector in the past two years. Workers who have been retrenched are being absorbed in the SMME sector, which is growing phenomenally.

"The sector has become a critical creator of employment - particularly in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal - and it is vital that the Seta provides support to make it more productive," says Rasool.

"Most small businesses operate outside the regulatory framework - bargaining councils, basic conditions of employment - but there are a significant number operating legitimately and it these that we are targeting.

"The future of our industry depends on the ability of small businesses to function at the high-end of the skills spectrum, given technological advancement and SA's inclusion in the global economy.

"Many of our SMMEs are owner-managed by people who were either floor managers or supervisors before being retrenched. They typically have neither higher education qualifications nor formal business acumen, but started their enterprises because they needed to put food on the table."

Rasool says most SMMEs need levels of skills beyond what they currently possess if they want to grow and operate in the formal economy.

"New businesses often fail because the very forces that gave birth to them - technical proficiency or entrepreneurial flair - on their own are insufficient to sustain them," says Tania Greyling, who developed the programme with Gill Connellan and Lisa Venter.

"All enterprises eventually have to confront external issues and comply with established practices if they wish to remain viable.

"No legitimate business can ignore societal influences or operate outside of legislated frameworks," she says.

The National Skills Development Strategy objective "promoting and accelerating quality training for all in the workplace", stipulates that "by March 2010, at least 500 enterprises achieve a national standard of good practice in skills development approved by the minister of labour". At present this standard is Investors in People.

"The SMME Potential programme not only prepares participants for the assessment to achieve the Investors in People standard, it also assists them to meet legislated broad-based black economic empowerment requirements," says Greyling.

Connellan says the programme is about the application of knowledge, rather than its acquisition. It comprises 10 interactive and practical half-day workshops, held at three-weekly intervals to enable participants to implement lessons learned at previous sessions.

"Few small businesses see the long-term monetary value of skills development and training. They regard their continuous presence in the workplace as essential to the enterprise's well-being, she says.

"Spending several consecutive days in training is therefore out of the question."

“AGOA Latest AGOA Trade Data currently available on

Click here to view a sector profile of South Africa’s bilateral trade with the United States, disaggregated by total exports and imports, AGOA exports and GSP exports.

Other regularly updated trade statistics on include: (click each link to view)

  • AGOA-Beneficiary Countries’ AGOA and GSP Trade Aggregates

  • AGOA Trade by Industry Sector

  • Apparel Trade under AGOA’s Wearing Apparel Provisions

  • Latest Apparel Quotas under AGOA

  • Bilateral Trade Data for all AGOA-eligible countries individually.

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