E.g., 07/11/2020
E.g., 07/11/2020

A Question of Communication? Translating Expectations Between Industry and Higher Education

By: Estefanía Muñoz Gómez

13 May 2019

Events like GALA Munich 2019 provide a successful platform for industry members to get together and discuss current and future trends in the sector. With AI as its main theme, GALA’s last conference featured a range of insightful presentations on the disruptive power of new technologies, and the need for businesses to rapidly adapt to this environment. As those with years of experience in the industry can attest to, however, transformations brought about by technological advances do not only lead to changes in tools, processes, and services. More fundamentally, they require a flexible workforce that is capable of both responding to emerging challenges and leveraging new opportunities. 

What does this future talent exactly look like? What skills do newcomers to the industry need to thrive and to contribute to the sector’s growth? These precise questions materialized in the launch of the New World of Work initiative, led by Project DaRT, a translation research team at University College Cork, in partnership with GALA and Lion People. While data is still coming in, first impressions from both formal and informal conversations held during the last GALA gathering in Munich seem to point towards three main areas of concern among industry leaders: technical proficiency, knowledge of the industry, and generic skills.  

How do these map against what universities are currently doing to prepare students for entry into the localization sector? Let it be said from the start that, in the same way that not two LSPs are equal, not two academic programs are ever the same and, like any organization, higher education institutions must also take into account their context, locale, and audience. Nevertheless, theoretical models may still offer a useful starting point. One of the leading standards is the competence framework developed by the European Master’s in Translation (EMT) network, given its focus on employability and its prominent role in informing curriculum design in Europe and beyond. The EMT framework distinguishes five areas of competence as common learning outcomes for graduates of translation degrees: (1) language and culture, (2) translation, (3) technology, (4) personal and interpersonal, and (5) service provision. In addition to the linguistic and strategic competencies that may often be taken for granted, the model covers both hard and soft skills, from tools and applications to personal attributes, as well as the provision of services in professional settings. 

Yet another question: where does then the proverbial gap between industry and academia stem from, if their goals are not so far apart? Just like LSPs, programs may of course face practical issues related to resource availability, existing expertise, and organizational constraints. Beyond these, however, there might also be an underlying miscommunication regarding the expectations that both worlds hold from each other.  

The training of hard skills can be structured, delivered, and assessed with relative ease, while soft skills, along with linguistic abilities, require more time and real-world experience to be developed. Universities can provide low stakes settings to facilitate learning, but it is only with the cooperation of businesses that opportunities for authentic practice can emerge. In addition, knowledge of the industry is likely to be best provided by industry members themselves, supported by universities’ pedagogical expertise. Finally, market needs and demands are ever-evolving and therefore industry players require constant change management to survive in such a technologically-driven, competitive environment, while there is no denying that universities are not by nature fast changing institutions. But this may be partly necessary, as it could be argued that their business is more so that of education rather than training, i.e. fostering personal and intellectual development instead of simply looking to respond to immediate needs.  

Rather than being understood as a discharge of responsibility, what this has the potential to do is to open a door to a more productive dialogue. Neither are universities exclusively concerned with literary texts of yesteryear nor is industry only worried about the quick sale. But higher education needs to make sure that the education they provide future professionals includes the fundamental ability to individually build upon acquired skills. And industry should be prepared to help with that continuous training process. 

LSPs often struggle explaining to clients the nuances of the localization process, and universities do not always succeed in articulating to students how to adequately frame the skills they possess. Likewise, industry and academia seem to have trouble translating their values and expectations, which puts them at risk of overlooking their shared objectives. As stakeholders in the translation and localization industry, we are all in the business of enabling communication. It is this expertise we need to apply for the development of a common metalanguage that contributes towards the establishment of meaningful synergies between industry and academia.  

Interested in the New World of Work initiative? You can still have a say! Participate in the survey here.