Demand for Translation and Interpreting Stronger than Ever

From the President

David Rumsey
president@atanet.org
Twitter handle: @davidcrumsey

One of the great things about serving as ATA President is the ability to meet, listen to, and learn from translators and interpreters from around the U.S. and abroad. Most recently, I traveled to Brazil—home to the second-largest number of ATA members outside the U.S.—to attend and present at the Associação Brasileira de Tradutores conference, where keynote speaker and Brazilian historian, Leandro Karnal, commented on the current uncertain political climate in Brazil and in the world at large. He said, “Pessimists go nowhere. Optimists move ahead.”

It’s easy to be pessimistic as our industry experiences some uncertainty in the face of technological changes and a globalized economy. Especially for those of us who have worked in the translation and interpreting (T&I) industry for several decades, things are changing fast. Yet, numerous statistics and forecasts point to a bright future for our industry, especially in terms of the rising demand for our services in an increasingly globalized world.

Data that was released recently from the U.S. Census indicates that the number of people employed in the T&I industry nearly doubled between 2008 and 2015, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment projections predict that the number of translator and interpreter jobs will grow 29% (to 78,500) by 2024.1 Job growth for translators and interpreters is actually outpacing that of other occupations.2

The reasons for this are interesting. Survey after survey has shown that people prefer products and services in their own language, and U.S. companies are starting to realize that a monolingual approach to business is a competitive disadvantage. Fourteen percent of U.S. and Global Fortune 2000 companies—companies like Google, Cisco, eBay, Twitter, Microsoft, and Marriott—report a loss of business opportunities due to lack of world language skills.3

What’s more, counterintuitively, the public discussion about free online translation tools has actually increased the market for professional translation and interpreting. Lured by visions of technology straight out of Star Trek, users often discover just how important and challenging translation is—and realize that they have sophisticated language needs that only human professionals can meet.

The global volume of content to be translated is growing exponentially each year, and with it comes pressure to produce results faster, cheaper, and more efficiently. But this has been the case for several decades, and translators and interpreters have been able to rise to these challenges by tackling technology, building better business models, and expanding their expertise. Far from being phased out, skilled human translators and interpreters are more in demand now than ever before.

The public is getting the message, thanks in part to the efforts of ATA’s Public Relations Committee. Through the committee’s business outreach program and articles published in trade magazines by the PR Committee’s Writers’ Group, U.S. businesses are learning not only what translation and interpreting are, but when and how to use these services effectively. Recently, we were fortunate to get significant exposure on CNBC4 as well as PBS5 to highlight the complexity of our profession and the sustained skills and adaptive approaches needed by practitioners of our craft.

Until the elusive “universal translator” exists, the need for human-to-human communication across cultures will continue. That’s why translation and interpreting is one of the oldest professions in history. As communication becomes increasingly complex, the need for sophisticated language consultants will only grow. Taking a pessimistic approach to the future only leaves us feeling overwhelmed by the much larger societal and economic forces that are at play. But an optimistic approach of opening and adapting to these changes provides us with the flexibility we need to shape the future and chart a path forward.

Notes
  1. U.S. Census County Business Patterns, bit.ly/US-Census-business.
  2. Occupation Outlook Handbook (Bureau of Labor Statistics), bit.ly/Occupation-Outlook.
  3. 
Global Talent Program Survey, Joint National Committee for Languages-National Council for Languages and International Studies (Globalization and Localization Association), April 2014.
  4. 
Rogers, Kate. “As the Earth Feels Ever Smaller, Demand for Translators and Interpreters Skyrockets (CNBC, July 7, 2017), http://bit.ly/translators-interpreters.
  5. 
Rogers, Kate. “Where the Jobs Are: Translators” (PBS Nightly Business Report, July 10, 2017), bit.ly/PBS-translators-jobs.
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