Knowledge is only useful when carried to the companies and applied there – argues Mário Jorge Machado, ATP president and administrator at Estamparia Adalberto
he scarcity of human resources has been exacerbating. Is that the industry’s number one problem?
It’s one of the main ones. Organizations cannot grow and evolve if there aren’t sufficient human resources, from designers to people with the ability of creating new processes and new ways of promoting products. It’s pointless to invest in machinery if we don’t have someone that can operate them.
In textiles, is that limitation felt much?
As opposed to what most people think, textiles require highly qualified people in a number of fields, which span from the most traditional – seamstresses, dyers, weavers, etc – to the most contemporary, such as, for example, designers.
How have those needs been met?
Companies have been investing in training their staff. This implies heavy costs since training always requires time. Only those with very little insight of the industry invoke the precariousness bogeyman and are against the flexibility of labour law. Nobody would spend time and resources to train a worker or specialized technician to fire him soon after…
Reconverting engineers from other specialities has covered the lack of textile engineers. Is this a satisfactory solution?
Companies have been recruiting chemical engineers, industrial management engineers, etc., and training them to the company’s needs. It’s not the ideal solution, but it has been bridging that gap.
What is the ideal solution?
We must keep telling to young people that textiles are an industry with a future, sophisticated and highly technological, where opportunities to achieve alluring careers are plentiful. For six years now the demand for the Textile Engineering degree at the Universidade do Minho hasn’t stopped rising. Which is good news.
There are those who complain about the absence of academic training directed towards specific needs, such as manufacturing engineers…
The fashion rank ranges a variety of sub-sectors with very specific demands and characteristics. Considering the speed with which technology and knowledge evolve, an engineer will quickly become obsolete if he doesn’t keep on learning…
We’re talking about a hands-on specialization, then?
If you try to learn to swim just by reading a swimming manual, you might excel theoretically, but you will most certainly drown the minute you jump into the water. Academic training must be complemented with learning on the ground.
What’s your opinion of the public system of professional training?
The investment is insufficient for the needs. We should have more training courses and more support. We have a bureaucratized system, thought out and designed according to those who draw the legislation instead of those who actually need it.
How do you evaluate Modatex?
Modatex has been doing a great job, but we feel like it needs access to more resources instead of being tied up by ultra-bureaucratic regulations, which prevents specialized technicians from providing training at the centres and requires a minimum of 15 students per class.
Will labour have to be imported?
Peter Drucker said that the only reliable midterm prediction is demographics. In Portugal and Europe, importing labour will become inevitable to maintain the current Social Security system and economic development.
Will wages have to be raised?
Companies with better business models will succeed at incorporating a moderate and virtuous salary rise. However, there are companies who are no longer viable after a rapid increase of salary expenses. We have to give companies time to increase their productivity, to do things thoughtfully instead of jeopardizing their continuity.
Should we make the process of closing companies easier?
One of the problems in our country is that shutting down a company is a very expensive and lengthy process. And we all know that artificially prolonging the agony of a dying company is bad for the economic growth.
Is labour law the context expense that most hurts our competitiveness?
There are so many factors that make life harder for companies – the fiscal load never stops rising, the cost of energy, the exasperating slowness of justice… Even financing doesn’t come easy. For those who really need the money, access to financing is still hard and the costs are high. The banks are less prone to risk these days.
Is the government concerned about fixing the companies’ problems?
You can tell there is an effort to listen and understand the companies’ needs. The officials for economics are more aware, visiting companies and accompanying the work of associations, like ATP. Unfortunately, legislation usually goes in the opposite direction and the country keeps evolving very slowly for the potential it has.
Looking at the sunny side, our TCI has been outstanding when it comes to innovation, accruing several international awards…
The companies, CITEVE and CeNTI have had a vital role in making our textile cluster extremely dynamic when it comes to innovation, product development, digitalisation and process engineering.
Do universities and companies still have their backs turned on each other?
Relations have improved, but there is still a long way to go. Companies should intervene more and universities should be more available. However, there is a root cause that should be addressed. Our learning system is not adequate to the real needs of companies and the country.
Which model should we adopt?
The dualistic model, which has been such a success in Germany and Switzerland. Learning doesn’t only happen in the classrooms, but also in companies, in contact with the reality of production. A study by the OECD showed that the dualistic model is three times more effective at absorbing young people looking for their first job than the traditional model.
Do you have any plan to get the fashion rank speaking with one voice and resuming the interrupted consolidation process?
I don’t have a plan. I know that everyone shall benefit if our TCI is represented by a single voice. I am totally available to start the dialogue in that aspect. If the other participants share the same will.
Are trade fairs still an indispensable tool for those who wish to export?
There might come a time when the model is depleted, but trade fairs have been able to reinvent themselves, becoming a privileged space to meet with clients, do networking and benchmarking, as well as promoting innovation, in a short period of time.
This new paradigm, where consumers worry about protecting the environment and the planet’s sustainability, is favourable for our TCI?
For us it is clearly an opportunity. We have innovative companies that produce sustainably, both socially and environmentally, and guarantee proximity sourcing.
After ten years of continuous growth, is there margin to keep growing?
Our TCI has become used to living in a competitive world that is constantly changing. Since we’re good at what we do, there is margin to keep growing if we are able to grab the opportunities that arise.
It is very convenient to negotiate with Spain – it’s a close market, very big and with world-class players. However, every situation of excessive concentration is very dangerous. The trade deals that the EU carried out with Japan, Canada and Mercosul are excellent opportunities that would be foolish to squander.
Individualism is one of the traditional weakest points of our TCI. Has it been improving?
It is not a simple process, but that has been diminishing as the sector welcomes to its ranks, destined to lead the course of traditional companies, a new generation with a different vision that knows there is space, benefits and even necessity to work in partnership. The “every man for himself” makes absolutely no sense when one is facing up against titanic buyers.
Are companies in-sync with the industry 4.0 and digitalization?
Those in this sector have realized that the connection between technology, innovation and design is the secret for survival and success – therefore everybody’s learning that new way of operating, in which equipment communicates with each other. In this process, there are companies further ahead and others far behind. Though the ability of permanently adapting to change is hard-wired into the sector’s DNA.
The boom of online sales favours the creation of Portuguese brands?
In theory, yes, because it overcomes the handicap of being born within a small market and exempts the heavy investment required to open a network of physical locations. However, in practice, online sales are an extremely competitive world, where conquering clients requires hefty investments…
What is your first priority as the President of ATP?
As ATP’s face and voice, I will do everything in my power to guarantee, from our legislators, the competitiveness of the sector, to project an international image that corresponds to the reality that we are the best in Europe, and make an effort to show to all the Portuguese people that the TCI is an interesting sector to work in and make a career. This is why I ran for the position.
In three years’ time, you would be pleased if…
… our textile industry keeps growing and has an even more positive image.
Mário Jorge Machado, 57, born and raised in Braga, is a Polymers Engineer from Universidade do Minho. Right after graduating he joined the Estamparia Adalberto’s team, founded by his parents-in-law (Noémia and Adalberto Pinto da Silva) in 1969. Married to Ana Paula, the Portuguese representative at Euratex has three children: Jorge Adalberto, 34 (director at Adalberto); Ana Rita, 30, graduate in Image&Sound (Universidade Católica); and Maria Isabel, 18, studying International Management at Manchester Business School.
What can we learn from the Turkish and Italian TCIs?
These are two completely different cases. We haven’t reached the image of excellence that Italy was able to create for its products. The image of “Made in Portugal” is getting better, but “Made in Italy” is still more valued. As for the Turkish, there one thing we can never learn again: to devalue the currency :-). Jokes aside, the Turks are very capable entrepreneurs and fierce competitors. They have invested immensely in technology, dimension and innovation. We have been a source of inspiration for them.
With competitiveness as the key, how will ATP approach the problematic lack of balance between two points: the cost of energy, which creates international asymmetries, and the environmental costs, which create regional asymmetries?
These topics rely on political decisions. For this reason, it is important that ATP has an audible voice in order to influence our political class, which has in their hands the power to correct these asymmetries.