ATA Joins Forces with the Association of Language Companies to Bridge the Education/Career Gap

The Association of Language Companies (ALC) has been working to increase connections, relationships, and shared learning between the professional and academic sides of the language services supply chain. From these efforts, the ALC Bridge was born.

When I was a junior at Willamette University in Oregon, my French professor, a diminutive hunchbacked woman who threatened second-year students with the literary past tense, mentioned translation in passing. She said, “people translate into their native languages, since they’re far more eloquent and efficient.” My interest was piqued. If there was a rule of thumb around translation, it must be a real career, with real preparatory studies and everything else.

After class, I ran to the career center, which consisted of about six feet of shelves full of printed graduate school catalogues. I spent an hour checking the index of every catalogue. Not one had an entry for translation (except for one for the translation of computer code). If I wanted to be a translator, I was going to have to look elsewhere.

As luck would have it, I was to spend a year in France after graduating, giving me a vastly different perspective on learning languages and their role in society. One year stretched to three, and I met professional interpreters who traveled first class and talked to several people who were studying language and hoping to get into a grande école (competitive graduate schools that produced highly regarded professionals).

Fortunately, many things have changed since then. There are now graduate programs in translation studies at more than one institution in the U.S. And there are a handful of undergraduate and certificate programs that go beyond the literary tradition associated with universities. Increased globalization has led to explosive growth in demand for skilled people who can broker information in other languages. Translation and interpreting have become “hot” careers, and the demand doesn’t look to be dropping off soon.

As my term as ATA president wound down, I wanted a chance to address an area that clearly needed attention: education. ATA’s Education and Pedagogy Committee is charged with working to form the next generation of translators and interpreters, making it easier for students to find programs and making sure programs actually provide students with information they can use to build careers. The committee is also authorized to reach out and work with other organizations, with the understanding that this is an enormous task.

The Challenge

Language companies provide services and products to clients in a range of sectors in government and private industry. At a 2017 conference of ATA’s sister organization, the Association of Language Companies (ALC), members stated that the number one challenge facing their businesses is insufficient linguistic resources in their pipelines to meet the growing demand for professional translators, interpreters, localizers, and project managers.

As an industry veteran and member of ALC’s board of directors, Kathleen Diamond knew that employers need qualified talent to fill positions in translation, interpreting, localization, language instruction, testing, and more. From her perspective, though, too few language majors enter the marketplace with real-world skills—the result of a persistent scarcity of higher education institutions in the U.S. that offer career-oriented programs in the field of translation and interpreting.

Kathleen and her fellow ALC board members determined that it would be beneficial to connect with academic institutions in hopes of creating clear pathways for language students to potential jobs. A task force was formed and, under the leadership of ALC’s board of directors, an outreach initiative (subsequently called the ALC Bridge) was created.

As the chair of this new program, Kathleen reached out to colleagues from both the employer and educator sides of the issue to come together to form a volunteer committee to further the goals of the ALC Bridge. Representatives from many organizations—both nonprofit and for-profit—also jumped on board. As a partner association of ALC, ATA’s Education and Pedagogy Committee was given the green light to join the effort.

ATA has also been working to encourage institutions to include professional skill building and illuminate career pathways. But the jump from the safe haven of higher education to the real world of working is a daunting one. While ATA provides resources like the Savvy Newcomer blog to help those entering the profession, assisting the ALC Bridge to increase connections, relationships, and shared learning between the professional and academic sides of the language services supply chain seemed like a perfect way to extend our reach.

The work is twofold: leveraging the needs of academic institutions looking for job opportunities for their language students, and those of the business world, which is seeking students who are well prepared for careers in the language services industry.

The following provides an overview of initiatives that the ALC Bridge has undertaken with its partners. It’s our hope that the information here will entice you to explore the website (www.alcbridge.org) and inspire you to think about other ways we can bridge the gap—and what role you might play.

Education as the Foundation

Our efforts start with education. Globalization has led to a steady increase in the demand for language services in recent years. The biggest buyers of these services domestically are the U.S. government and the health care industry. (For example, the U.S. Department of Defense has a significant budget for language services.) There is also high demand for language professionals in the courts, retail, customer service, software, and financial sectors, to name a few. Paradoxically, at the same time, language programs at colleges and universities are experiencing decreased enrollment. Students (and their parents) see little opportunity for employment beyond traditional teaching and tenured positions in academia. In fact, companies have jobs going unfilled in fields requiring language proficiency and functional skills, such as language engineering, localization, and subtitling.

By connecting academia to the realities of potential careers, the ALC Bridge hopes for nothing short of a revolution in the way universities and colleges structure their language programs in response to, and in collaboration with, companies’ demonstrable need for human talent. The result will be appropriately educated and trained language students who are critical to the success of the 21st-century world economy.

Working the Connections

But the work of the ALC Bridge is not just about creating a revolution in the way higher education institutions prepare students. It’s also about working with key players in the language services industry to provide opportunities specific to graduates—or those nearing graduation—to gain and hone skills and transition to working life.

Unlike mass job posting boards, the ALC Bridge hosts a job board that offers a plethora of jobs specific to the language industry, not just generic job listings for translators and interpreters. The site includes internships as well as postings for other positions, such as project managers and localizers.

The ALC Bridge is also creating opportunities to bring the business world into the classroom, giving students a peek at what awaits them. Judging from webinar attendance and enrollments in our pilot programs and the number of questions students have, we’re filling a need.

When talking about demand in the language services industry, the discussion inevitably turns to the role of technology and machine translation. It’s true that language services companies and their clients are becoming progressively dependent on industry-specific technology but struggle to find language professionals adept at using these tools or formats. The model of the humanities-focused literary program needs heavy modifications to prepare students for the realities of working with translation tools, not to mention the software used to run their businesses. Trends toward machine translation, machine learning, multimedia content, and automation are driving the evolution of the language industry, and companies need tech-savvy language workers to help them adapt. The ALC Bridge is in a unique position to inform a curriculum that’s not only solid in terms of the theory and practice of language transfer, but also what cutting-edge technologies students need to master to be competitive.

First Steps

The first foray into connecting educators and professionals came in the form of a webinar series. The ALC Bridge has committed to producing at least four quarterly webinars, all free, and forming a library of on-demand webinars. The first webinar in October 2019 was “Careers in Language: An Introduction for Students.” Since then, we’ve produced webinars on careers in localization and translation and interpreting for students. There has even been one tailored to school districts that discussed three models for successful high school interpreter training programs. We’re planning webinars discussing the translation and interpreting industry in Europe, opportunities for entrepreneurs, and ones tailored to community colleges for the remainder of 2021.

Career fairs also represent a way to reach students and faculty to give them an idea of what to expect working in the language services industry. Partnering with the Wasserman Center for Career Development at New York University in March 2020, we helped stage mock interviews for students who were preparing for life beyond graduation.

While webinars provide us with a broad reach, some educators we’ve talked with have asked for something more that would “fit” better into a traditional academic setting. As a result, we’re piloting a 13-week seminar program developed with faculty at Carnegie Mellon University. The course, which will meet weekly, includes virtual visits by professionals in different areas of the language services industry. It will require students to research questions in advance and write their thoughts on the different perspectives offered.

The latest programs in the ALC Bridge lineup include the creation of the ALC Bridge Speakers Corps. LanguageLine, an ALC member, has also announced they have created an unlimited number of internships for students in interpreting programs nearing graduation. These paid internships will include training and work in situations that will allow students to sharpen their skills. We hope the ALC Bridge Speakers Corps will provide a way for educators to pull professionals and potential employers into their classrooms to provide customized content that fits their program needs.

The Larger Network

The ALC Bridge is more than a few industry folks leveraging their personal academic connections. By bringing together employers in the language services industry, educational institutions, and career seekers in a vertical space dedicated solely to the language services, the number of connections increases exponentially.

This is where we can all play a role. Creating an account on the ALC Bridge website is free, and we hope that our network of partnerships can keep it so for the foreseeable future. Please visit the website and poke around. If you own a language services company, the website is a great place to post openings (or internships!). If you’re a recent graduate (or just looking for new clients), have a look at the current openings under “Where the Jobs Are.” If you’re an educator, look at the materials available to you. And if there’s something you would like to see or share, contact anyone on the ALC Bridge Committee (info@alcbridge.org) and let us know.

This article would not have been possible without the help of Kathleen Diamond, the founding chair of the ALC Bridge. She is principal of Kathleen Diamond & Co. and a consultant, entrepreneur, and business leader in the language services industry. She serves as chair of ASTM Committee F43 on Language Services and Products. She is fluent in Spanish and French in addition to English. She has a master’s degree in 16th-century French literature from the University of Florida.


Caitilin Walsh, CT is an ATA-certified French>English translator who delights in producing publication-quality translations for the computer industry and food lovers alike. A past president of ATA, she currently chairs ATA’s Education and Pedagogy Committee. She also serves as president-elect of the Joint National Committee for Languages. She teaches ethics and business practices at the Translation and Interpreting Institute at Bellevue College. She is also chair of the Translation and Interpretation Advisory Committee for the Puget Sound Skills Center. She is a graduate of Willamette University and the Université de Strasbourg. cwalsh@nwlink.com

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