;   Medical Translation Insight: Is there a sunny side to translation-industry layoffs? - ForeignExchange Translations

Is there a sunny side to translation-industry layoffs?The translation business has been relatively spared by the current recession. But "relatively" is, well, relative. For every translation company like ForeignExchange that is growing, there is another company that is unable to pay suppliers or laying off staff.

The persistent job cuts among companies focused on translations for sectors of manufacturing or software development have some people looking for the bright side. Yes, hundreds or even thousands of employees are set to lose their pay. But that doesn't mean that the sky is falling - or does it?

Leaving aside the obvious silver-lining hope (i.e., shrinking companies will be more efficient and can deliver higher returns to their shareholders and improved security for their remaining workers), the following view points have been bandied about, trying to make lemonade out of translation lemons.

By some measures, the folks getting the axe weren't strong performers. One common argument says that longer-term, employees who got laid off will be better off because they will find careers that allow them to perform better. (As true as that probably is, it still reeks of a convenient justification.)

I have also heard it argued that job cuts in mature Western markets are enabling staff increases in emerging economies. But that's the challenge with globalization, isn't it? While some countries/regions may benefit, this doesn't give much hope to those who are losing their jobs in the U.S. and Europe.

Could it also be that layoffs will lead to new translation start-ups? It is but a tiny step to go from translation PM to translation company - a web site and a phone, and you're in business. Could today's layoffs usher in tomorrow's competitors?

It used to be that the "rising tide" of globalization lifted all translation company "boats". Not any longer. As clients look to do more with less, an increasing number of translation companies are feeling the heat.

ForeignExchange Translations provides specialized medical translation and software localization services to medical device and pharmaceutical companies. Contact us to learn more.


  1. Mario Chávez said...
    After reading this posting, I found myself sighing and groaning. Just generalizations unsupported by any hard data. It barely qualifies as an opinion piece as there are not clear pros or cons, just rehashed bits of information we professional translators have known for a long time since the globalization of our industry became internetized more than a dozen years ago.

    Let me share a specific example. I am based in Ohio, but I know a thing or two about the translation market in Argentina, where I come from. While there are some strong players there that provide translation/localization services for organizations in developed countries, many recent translation graduates are still clinging to the failed formula of setting up a "translation bureau" to get started in the business. That approach fragments the Argentine (and the global) market even further.

    One of my clients is preparing to fold, based on an email I received from them. They are no longer accepting translation projects. The translation industry is too fragmented to see the trends very clearly, despite claims to the contrary introduced by the likes of Common Sense Advisory. There are so many segments within this mosaic of language providers that it is very difficult to come up with general trends, let alone very useful prognostications.

    Mario Chávez
    Spanish software localizer
    Peter Matthews said...
    There might be a sunny-side for the international research community. It may be easier for academic researchers to find translators willing to do the hard work of academic translation for prices closer to what academics think they can afford.

    And academics who themselves face an uncertain job future may be more willing to use translation and editing services to target their publications more effectively, and to raise their own writing standards (writers can learn a lot just by having translators and editors read their papers).

    This combination of factors may make research-focused social networks such as the <a href="http://cooperative.ning.com> Research Cooperative</a> more attractive starting points for translators to get experience and build their own customer networks.

    [Declaration of bias - I am a researcher who works with translators and initiated the Research Cooperative network]

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