Category Archives: Economy

“Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New”- Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850


imagesAt this writing, our country is facing severe uncertainty, as we flirt with a continued government shutdown, whose repercussions will be felt around the world if America is unable to meet her financial obligations for the first time in 200 years.  It will be interesting to see how these events impact the T&I sector, which Common Sense Advisory had forecast will be at 34.7 billion dollars worldwide in 2013 for outsourced language services, half of which is in North America. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, our industry is expected to increase 29% between 2010-2020, topping Healthcare and Social Assistance at 28%, despite the fact that the latter has the gigantic and aging baby-boomer population fueling its growth.

What is the takeway from this crisis both individually as well as collectively?  That we must move towards a viable plan for fiscal responsibility so that we are not spending more than we are making.

The third quarter, at the latest, is when our small businesses, be they language services providers or otherwise, should be planning for the following year by comparing projections to actuals to see if our business strategies for the year worked.

The most important figure arguably is the net income/net loss, which is total revenues minus total expenses. If the business has been in effect for several years, this is good indicator of the trend it is taking.  For reference, according to Common Sense Advisory in 2011, 24% of language service providers (LSPs) have been in business 1 to 2 years, whereas only 4% have been in business over 30 years. Sixty nine percent have 2.5 employees and only .4% have 101-500.

Substantial digging has to be done to uncover the reason for the NI (net income).  We should look at the number of clients this year vs. other years, what clients did not give us business this year, and who our most important customers are, in terms of profit, so that we can devote more attention to them or get any money that has been left on the table. On the other hand, sometimes, we may have clients that give us a lot of work (revenue), but the cost of goods sold is too high because their work is conditioned on a very low price point or because doing business with them is expensive due to their inefficiencies and payment practices or the customer service they require. We must be realistic and drop these clients who are a liability because they are negatively affecting our all-important bottom line, despite their sales volumes or contribution to the top line.

We must also be proactive.  If you want to improve the NI, you must obviously change something.  When you work on the budget, see what new strategy may make a difference in the following year, assuming it is affordable. Some items to consider might be hiring an employee to make your recruitment, scheduling, invoicing and sales more efficient.  Other considerations could be to weigh whether additional training might make you more marketable, or if the benefits of setting aside dues to join trade associations and attend their events make it appropriate. The latter will also help to keep you abreast of changes and issues in the industry and connect you to colleagues you can collaborate with.

Make executive decisions for next year now,  that will be commensurate with a long-term wellness plan for your business rather than just starting the equivalent of a “fad diet” that will not have a lasting effect.

Let me know your thoughts as to other considerations or advice upon reviewing your year-end income statement and balance sheet.

Am I Making the Right Decision?


imagesThis question is not the exclusive purview of philosophers and mental health practitioners. It has always been a hot topic and many of us chew our nails to the nubs while making decisions that involve a major issue in our life such as relationships, health care, family problems, the purchase of a house, etc. After we reach a conclusion, we oftentimes continue to second-guess it, especially when as now, circumstances are aggravated by difficult economic times that have a bearing on many of these situations.

In the T&I profession there are key decisions as well, that impact our lifestyle and need to be confronted. Among others, they include questions such as educational choices, what work aspect of language to focus on, what is best for me, a freelancer or employee position?  What remuneration should I seek? Is there value in volunteering my services to a trade association, etc.

Being a rational MBA and a long-time spiritual seeker, I have one foot planted firmly in both of these camps, and I follow a balanced procedure I devised that I would like to share with you as it has proven invaluable to me over the years. Start out by not believing everything you think prior to undergoing the process.

  1.  The first step is to research the matter.  The most generalized search you will do will be probably be on Google but rather than typing in a simple phrase, learn the search conventions for advanced searches which are very simple to do and will save you a lot of time. Please note that there are similar tips for advanced searches on other platforms such as additional search engines, FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, etc.
  2. Make a short list of the pros and cons of each solution.  Remember that comparing options will increase your confidence.
  3. Identify a qualified friend as well as a devil’s advocate to discuss the alternatives. Remember that advice from others usually comes from the intellect.
  4. Listen to your gut/intuition to determine what feels comfortable and resonates with you.  Remember that in the end, you know better than anyone else what is best for you.
  5. Be aware that the world is in constant flux and you will be able to reassess many of your decisions should you decide they are not working for you in the future.
  6. Realize that experience is one of the main filters our brain uses to make decisions.  It therefore stands to reason that you focus on positive experiences and try to reduce or eliminate internalizing  negative ones so that your “database” is populated by optimistic, affirmative information.
  7. I cannot overstate the importance of a regular simple meditation practice of 15 minutes twice a day to clear the cobwebs.  It will help you immensely to analyze all of the above, in addition to having many other benefits.

Bear in mind that whatever you ultimately decide will be the best resolution you could have reached. It may not be completely apparent why in the short term, but in the end I can assure you that it will be an experience you had to undergo to fulfill some as yet possibly unidentified need in your path.  I am convinced that nothing in life is random.  It just may take a while to connect the dots but there is an Intelligence superior to ours guiding our steps and our prior understanding of all the details does not contribute to the desired outcome.

I hope you will agree that this is both a relevant and fascinating topic. I look forward  to seeing your comments and benefiting from your opinions and experiences.

Four Issues Interpreters Are Talking About


In my review of social media and conversations I have had with interpreters in the U.S. and abroad, I find the following topics are being followed closely and I would like to submit them to your consideration for feedback

The Capita/Applied Language Solutions Situation in the UK

The latest developments are that, instigated  by Margaret Hodge, Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, the powerful  National Audit Office (NAO) will be investigating the matter.  A six week deadline for the investigation has been set which will come due at the end of July.  The scope of same is significant.

On Wednesday, July 18, the Justice Select Committee of the House of Commons which scrutinizes the policy, administration, and spending of the Ministry of Justice also launched a call for written evidence to examine the service provided by Applied Language Solutions and the process by which it was selected.  See an article in the Law Society Gazette dated 18 July 2012 for greater detail.

Furthermore, Gavin Wheeldon, the CEO of Applied Language Solutions, at a time of utmost upheaval during the implementation of the Interpreting Framework Agreement, has suddenly quit his position. Read the circumstances at The Manchester Evening News, Business Section.

What repercussions can this have on the rest of the industry?

The Need for Education/Standardization/Certification In the Interpreting Profession

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Translating and Interpreting sector in the U.S. is expected to grow 42% from 2010 to 2020, much faster than for all occupations, and job opportunities should be best for those who have a professional certificate.

The Glendon College at York University in Canada is one of two institutions in North America whose interpreting curriculums have been vetted by AIIC.  I contacted them to see how their programs were doing. Andrew Clifford, the coordinator for the Master of Conference Interpreting tells me they are expecting the first cohort for  interpreting in September  and although they have experienced some volatility in the existing translation programs, the trend is mostly positive as students seek out second careers during the global economic crisis because the translation industry seems to be somewhat recession-proof.

Karen Borgenheimer, a certified interpreter who teaches at the Professional Translation and Interpreting Program at Florida International University (F.I.U.) confirms that  their program has grown about 56% in the last 2 years. Most of their students are professionals who have either lost their jobs or are looking for an additional source of income given salary cuts and inflation.

F.I.U. also get many women who have left the job force to raise families and either can’t get back into their previous professions due to budget cuts or are looking for more flexible work schedules, with very few “college” age students.  This is consistent with the findings of Common Sense Advisory’s 2010 Review of the Language Services Market, indicating that this profession is not typically embarked upon by high school or college students.  It is of concern because 18.24% percent of interpreters are between the ages of 58-67, or retirement age. Only 5.29% is younger than 28[i], which is why it is very important that we reach out to high schools with programs designed to attract young people to the profession.

Michelle Hoff, a freelance conference interpreter at the European Court of Justice and an interpreter trainer at the University of La Laguna in Tenerife, Spain, reports that their interpreting programs are relatively stable, which may be a trade-off between those who have no money to attend during the economic downturn and those who want to take advantage of the hiatus to improve their skills.

It is interesting to note that ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), a globally recognized leader in the development and delivery of international voluntary consensus standards, has initiated the creation of a standard practice instead of a policy, to accredit an organization to give credentials to individual interpreters.  Visit their website at http://www.astm.org/ and become involved.3.

Interconnectivity Through Social Media; Especially YouTube, Blogs, Twitter and FB

There has been a veritable explosion of valuable national/international connections created, far too lengthy to detail, in the last two years.  Just browse for Interpreting and Translating in these forums and you will be amazed at the sheer number of colleagues participating, from which we can all learn.

Major Players Driving Change

In the U.S., in my estimation, the main forums  seeking to lead positive changes in our profession are The American Translators Association, The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators,  AIIC, InterpretAmerica, LLC, The International Federation of Translators, and  Common Sense Advisory.  If you want to make a difference, learn what these organizations do, avail yourself of their expertise and give input on how to shape our future. Only then can we be satisfied with outcomes.

What do you think?  What would you add?


 

[i]. Kelly, Nataly, Stewart, Robert G., Hegde, Vijayalaxmi, (2010) A Study of Interpreting in North America Commissioned by InterpretAmerica, pp. 9, © 2010 Commonsense Advisory, Inc.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?


I was recently interviewing to hire freelance interpreters, thankful that I was able to participate in a miniscule way to lower the high and static U.S. unemployment rate. One of the applicants took the initiative to tell me she was regularly employed as a freelancer, interpreting insurance claims for a well-known carrier that pays her an exorbitant amount of money to work throughout the state.  I was happy to hear that because I thought she might be good, if she commanded those prices, and we would be able to use her services for a normal fee during her down times.  That was before I read an article in the Economist that put this in perspective. Apparently, institutions and companies with very deep pockets do not always behave rationally.

Much to my surprise, when I tested her with a simulation of consecutive discourse similar to that used in the work she allegedly does, her performance was very poor. And I keep these tests simple to get a general idea of breadth of vocabulary, types of assignments one can do and what training candidates may benefit from.  There was no saving this baby. I tactfully informed her that she needed to improve her performance to work for us.  I did not expound, but unfortunately for her, I don’t think she will keep her current  job long. Sooner or later, someone who can tell the difference will inform the powers that be of her incompetence.

My pronouncement did not faze her. She didn’t skip a beat and blithely offered herself as a conference interpreter no less, which she deemed was more her style as in that mode, she doesn’t have to rely on memory because she  interprets simultaneously. I was mesmerized by the woman’s cheek as that skill is much more demanding than consecutive. I couldn’t resist asking her what experience she had in that field. She gamely answered that she had only done one conference, three months before—her trial by fire.  Undaunted, I asked her about payment and how it had gone. She informed me that she had been recruited by phone, sight unseen, by an agency from another state, to work in Florida.  She was only informed at the last minute that the end client was a well-known company that sells health/weight-loss products and the extent of her preparation was to visit their website the night before.  The day in question, lo and behold, her booth partner, because simultaneous interpreting is done in pairs, never showed and she ended up actually doing the conference by herself the full day. She did admit that by the afternoon her brain was fried.  I cannot but wonder about her audience’s, as interpreters, albeit experienced ones, switch off between one another every half hour to be able to maintain the integrity of the interpretation.

Our intrepid candidate went on to say that she had not yet been paid—some incredibly substandard wage—and that her employer had recently contacted her to do another conference two weeks hence.  She must have seen the incredulous look in my eyes and hastened to say she would not do it unless she was paid for the prior work by the day before the new assignment I only nodded, and asked her if she knew the subject matter for the new conference and what colleague she would be working with. She did not know and could not have cared less. Her only concern was being paid for the first assignment.

That, dear readers, is the seamy side of the current economy. It’s myopically penny-wise and pound-foolish. In one case, the insurance company is paying this  “interpreter” more than trained certified interpreters for something she cannot do properly. I assume her employer does not know either the cost for said service nor the quality he is getting. In the other, this same “interpreter” is paid peanuts to do something she most definitely cannot do. The language company that hired her is getting cheap labor to secure the bid, and the final user is wasting his money, not to mention the time of the attendees, but in this second scenario everybody thinks  he is nominally “saving” money.

This is one little example I happened to witness in my field, of  the type of practices that are keeping us in a vicious circle and that will not help us come out of our economic doldrums. And it seems to not be an isolated instance. I have been told by several familiar with this situation in our state, that many end users are foregoing their historical language providers in search of bilinguals who may be able to do the job for less. The only way to grow the economy is by adding value to our offerings doing whatever is needed to improve our skills and in tandem, encouraging the entrepreneurs in our midst to create jobs for us, which role is more important than that  of the often touted innovators according to Gallup research.  All of us working together will lead the way out of this lost decade.

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