CHF Haiti Blog Update - August 13, 2010: Training a Skilled Labor Force in Haiti

By David Humphries, Senior Communications Manager

HAC graduationIn the 1980s there were around 150,000 workers in the Haitian garment industry. Now, there are around 20,000.

In November 2009, I came to Haiti for the first time to help with the preparations for the launch of the Haiti Apparel Center. The Apparel Center is a place for training based in Port-au-Prince, and has the capacity to create over 2000 highly skilled garment industry workers each year, from machine operators to trainers, middle managers and executives.

At the time, the Haiti Apparel Center was just a few months from completion. But then, as we all know, disaster struck. The Center building – originally an empty shell that CHF had developed, survived the earthquake (like all of our constructions) – and suddenly became a home for many displaced Haitians, desperate for safe shelter. By the time of my second trip in February and March 2010, it was being used as an emergency health clinic.

Haiti Apparel CenterBut in the intervening five months, the people inside were rehoused, the clinic moved, and CHF, funded by USAID, set to work on completing the Apparel Center. On August 11, 2010, the Center, completed and ready for its first classes, was inaugurated. Representatives if the Haitian government and private sector, CHF staff and partners, and a US government delegation led by Ambassador Kenneth Merten all attended. For me, personally, the highlight of the ceremony was watching the graduates (who have been trained during construction) receiving their certificates from the speakers. And it was interesting to hear the different stakeholders in their speeches describing the purpose of the Center.

The purpose is quite simple. Haiti has a huge, underemployed labor force. The country is within less than a day’s shipping distance from the world’s largest market, the USA, and additionally has favorable trade legislation with the USA (HOPE and HELP legislations). The only gap is skills. The Haiti Apparel Center is there to improve the skills of the garment sector workforce so that they can compete internationally – from knowing the broad range of complex stitches required, to being able to implement the processes needed for the “full package” service expected by high street brands.

Since January 12, CHF has built over 1900 shelters and removed over 200,000 cubic meters of debris, But we have also been looking at the long-term solutions for Haiti, creating long-term jobs, helping Haiti to carve itself a place in the international marketplace on the basis of its own efforts. That’s the work that will make a difference in the future of this country.