|Women Encounter Technology: Changing Patterns of Employment in the Third World (UNU, 1995, 356 pages)|
|5. Changes in textiles|
The industries of the Asian NIEs have clearly left the low-wage, labor-intensive phase behind and are moving to technology-intensive manufacturing, with the attendant need for highly skilled human resources. Japan is already one step further, at the 'brain intensive' stage of development, marked by the predominance of activities based on knowledge and information taking place outside the manufacturing sector. The trend away from manufacturing towards services is already visible in the NIEs, with increasing employment in the service sector, including activities previously classified within the manufacturing sector. These activities represent highly productive inputs into the production system and have very little, if anything, in common with the traditional notion of services as low-skill, low-production activities.
The textile industry is rapidly becoming marginalized in the process, although a 'hard core' of highly sophisticated textile firms will no doubt remain. The declining share of female labour in the textile industry is indicative of changes in skill requirements, for which women seem to be less prepared than men. The textile branch is thus becoming of relatively small importance as a supplier of female jobs. Skill upgrading or diversification of the female workforce is needed if their share in the textile labour force is to be maintained.
In the garment industry, slower progress in automation has been compensated for by organizational changes and the introduction of computerized management systems. These changes have had little impact on the composition of the garment labour force, which remains overwhelmingly female. While this situation is unlikely to change in the near future, there is a longer-term need for skill improvement and diversification, in view of the industry's need to respond to changes in demand and to anticipated changes in technology.
Women can be seen to be moving into services or into the growth industries. Services would generally be the domain of those with better educational levels, which are definitely rising. In the new growth sectors and branches, women are still predominantly found at the lower occupational levels. An increase can be detected among the higher ranks of professionals, but the numbers involved remain small. A new group of generally better-skilled marginal workers also seems to be emerging: home workers and subcontractors who are dependent on information-intensive activities. The most vulnerable group is older married women doing unskilled work: their skill/education levels being too low to be of much use in the rapidly-changing economy.
The educational and training systems are responding with varying means and degrees of success in the individual economies. But women are still a minority of the students in the subjects that matter, particularly with regard to the skills and knowledge needed in manufacturing. The evidence about specific training for textiles and clothing in Hong Kong and the Republic of Korea suggests that although women's representation in some of the courses is quite impressive, their representation in the subjects required for higher technical and managerial posts remains very low.
Women appear to be better represented in education and training for services. Seen in the broader perspective of a shift towards service-dominated economies, the situation is therefore not altogether unfavourable for women, even if they have to cope with other obstacles, such as biased hiring practices, which have not been discussed here. However, there is a need to further increase the participation of women in the relevant types of education and training, while paying particular attention to those female workers in low-skill positions who are likely to be marginalized in the process.