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Bridging the skills gap

Written by Ann Brooks

ITI professional development officer Ann Brooks discusses what needs to be done to shrink the skills gap in the translation and interpreting sector.

I recently spoke at the Translating Europe Forum in Brussels on a training pathway from university to the world of translation. It was a stimulating experience with interesting speakers talking on the theme of developing translators skills throughout their career.

One of the main concepts I covered was the skills gap. Most of us would agree that a degree is a gateway to many interesting career opportunities. According to a member survey carried out by the Association of Graduate Recruiters, of the 13,156 graduate jobs available in 2016 in the UK, 5.4% of those vacancies remained unfulfilled. With over 300,000 students graduating every year from UK universities, supply should match demand but it doesn’t. On the flip side a significant number of graduates struggle to find the graduate level of work they want. This is the skills gap.

A Masters in translation will give graduates an excellent start for launching their freelance career. As with many professions bridging the gap between studying and working is not always easy.

We know there is a misalignment between Language Service Providers (LSPs)  and new freelancers’ expectations.  

LSP’s claim that graduate translation speed is slow, they are unfamiliar with all the CAT tools, they are unable to format documents and they don’t follow instructions. Graduates allege that LSP’s require too many soft skills, are unrealistic with their flexibility and availability expectations, and don’t understand where they fit into the process.

All of us play a role to bridge the skills gap.

Universities can offer

  • Degree Apprenticeships
  • More industry-related content
  • More internships/placements
  • Simulated practical scenarios
  • Collaboration with LSPs and professional bodies
  • Promote life-long learning to graduates
  • Help graduates emerge fit for the workplace (professional Aspects Translation – CV, job application, business & CPD plan)

 Freelance translators need to

  • Identify their own training needs/weaknesses
  • Keep up to date with technology
  • Plan their CPD to achieve this

 Language service providers can

  • Collaborate with universities and professional bodies to explain the market, roles within it, expectations, processes, project management etc.
  • Attend conferences, language show, university talks
  • Contribute to publications on industry trends (translating apps, twitter etc.)
  • Provide guidance on their websites on how to apply

Professional bodies need to

  • Provide information on the website (How to become a Translator, Career Pathways)
  • CPD training with Universities, LSP’s
  • Providing mentoring schemes (run by ITI language and subject  groups)
  • Provide local translator/interpreter networking opportunities
  • Collaborate with corporate members and partner entities (ATC, FIT, MET, SENSE)


One of the first things I did when I joined ITI was to develop the Setting Up as a Freelance Translator (SUFT) online course for newcomers, providing direct access to practising translators who have a successful track record themselves. This gives graduates the opportunity to benefit from their experience, thus ensuring their survival and helping to future-proof their careers. Now in its eight series, and each time at least 30 % of the students find work before the end of the course.

At ITI, CPD is for life and following  the success of the SUFT course, the Advancing your Freelance Translation Career was launched January 2017.

These days, competition is not just from the translator the other side of the world but from Google translate. Even more important to create a dialogue and work more closely with everyone in the supply chain to ensure that the next generation of translators are simply the best.

Recently at the Speak to the Future Symposium, Dr Adam Marshall, Director General, British Chambers of Commerce said “we don’t need more qualifications we need people who can get the job done”

ITI has developed a Research Network, including Universities, Language Service Providers and Translators and Interpreters to ensure we manage expectation and provide experiences new graduates need to become the professionals we want.

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