A Few Words on the Industry Outlook

This article appeared in the May/June issue of the Gotham Translator.

There is a lot to be happy about.  Recent accounts and research on the state of the language service industry have been quite confident.

The US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment for interpreters and translators over the 2008-2018 decade is expected to grow by 22%, much faster than the average employment growth for all occupations*.  Demand is projected to remain strong for translators of frequently translated languages (Portuguese, French, Italian, German and Spanish) and those working with Arabic and other Middle Easter languages and the leading East Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean).

In the meantime, Inc. Magazine named translation and interpreting services as one of the best business for 2010, along with environmental consulting, home health care, mobile app design, teas and healthy beverages to quote only a few.  According to the article “The Best Industries for Starting a Business Right Now”, the translation market grew some 18% in 2009 (by comparison to an average of 22% a year since 2004).

Another news provider, the electronic version of Crain’s New York Business, hailed our industry for having successfully weather the recent financial crisis.  The author of the article “Impervious industry:  How translation business sailed through recession” gives a very positive view of how language service businesses were able to withstand market pressures from mid-2008 to the end of 2009.

She credits a manufacturing boom in Latin America, the rising number of immigrants in the US and the federal government’s increased spending of $1 billion on language services last year for the industry’s good overall shape.  According to one of her four sources, a weaker dollar has also acted as an incentive to many European firms looking for translation and interpreting services in the US.

Even the suffering financial sector is said to have generated more translation work as companies rallied to reassure international clients of their hardiness through newsletters, fact sheets and other well-targeted documents.  In the article, global demand for translation services is reported to have grown 15% to 20% since 2006, as estimated by the research firm Common Sense Advisory Inc.

So how does this information fit with the findings of our recent survey **?  Most of us have experienced a definite slump in earnings.  Could it be that businesses were better at fending off the market forces than individual free-lance translators?  What can we do to keep up?  How can we protect ourselves and our livelihood?  These are the sort of questions that we should explore together.

In the meantime, we should be happy about the relatively cheery outlook.  Let’s hope that the worst of the storm is over.

*Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Interpreters and Translators, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos175.htm.

** NYCT SURVEY OF THE ECONOMIC DOWNTURN AND ITS IMPACT ON MEMBER TRANSLATORS AND INTERPRETERS (http://www.surveygizmo.com/s/253009/nyct-survey-001) – survey report published in the March/April issue of the Gotham Translator.