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Study shows Indian garment workers demonstrates power of soft skills

Studies have revealed workers who have technical ability as well as soft skills have more job opportunities and correspondingly enhanced wages. A new research paper from a team of economics and business professors at Harvard, Boston College and the University of Michigan notes employers also benefit when workers possess soft skills. Garment workers in India who took a course in personal advancement were 20 per cent more productive than workers without the training.

The study, released as a working paper has not yet been peer reviewed, involved a field experiment at five factories that makes clothes for Gap in Bengaluru, in South India. Almost 3,000 workers entered a lottery to take part in an 80-hour course designed for Gap to teach the workers, largely women in their 20s with limited education, life skills such as time management, communication, problem solving and financial literacy.

The 1,087 workers who joined the course became more productive, measured by the quantity of items they produced on the shop floor, by executing simple tasks more efficiently. Workers who finished the course were 11 per cent more productive than before the course and 20 per cent more productive than the control group who did not join the course.

The survey further revealed the women who completed training said they were more likely to ask for additional training that permitted them to master more difficult projects, than those who didn’t take the course. They were also more likely to take advantage of employer and government benefits that helped their productivity and because they took courses on goal setting, they became more focused on increasing their earnings to save for the future. A unique fallout was that other workers on the assembly lines who did not take the course became more productive as they learned from the women who had taken the classes.

The flip side was increased profits did not go to the workers. Their wages went up by only 0.5 per cent, partly due to the fact that they had no way of communicating their new skills to other employers — who hire workers based strictly on sewing ability.