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  • Writer's pictureJulio Madrid

Measuring translators’ quality of working life and their career motivation. Conceptual and methodological aspects

I’ve been reading an article published on February 15 in the Translation Spaces Journal, titled “Measuring translators’ quality of working life and their career motivation. Conceptual and methodological aspects”, by Akiko Sakamoto, Darren van Laar, Joss Moorkens, and Félix do Carmo. I found it fascinating and couldn’t wait to share my two cents with you all.

The paper presents the development of a new survey tool called the “Translator Work-Related Quality of Life” (T-WRQoL) Survey, which aims to measure the translators' work satisfaction and motivation in the context of job digitalization and automation. It consists of two parts: an adapted version of the previous WRQoL Scale, measuring the general work-related quality of life, and a new component designed specifically for translators, measuring three new constructs: Motivation to Work (MOW), Tech-Human Symbiosis (THS), and Translator Agency (TRA).

The authors conducted a preliminary study with 71 translators from the UK's Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI). Through factor analysis, they identified seven factors underlying the three translator-specific constructs: Professional Commitment, Enjoyment, Technology-positive, Technology-negative, MT-positive, Status, and Success.

According to the preliminary findings (and to finally prove what we all have known for years of forums and chatroom verbose negativity), translators with negative attitudes toward technology are less likely to perceive their careers as successful. Those with more experience in post-editing tend to have more positive attitudes toward technology and Machine Translation (MT). Yes, you read it correctly, and yes, we also knew that but simply didn’t have the proper research to back it up. And, to no surprise, the findings also show that translators who enjoy their work and feel successful are more likely to want to stay in the profession for at least five years. Overall, work satisfaction strongly correlates with enjoyment, success, and perceptions of professional status, as in most professions.

Now, as a Language and Localization Specialist with almost two decades of experience under my love handles, I believe the T-WRQoL Survey was long overdue, and I commend the researchers’ timely and valuable initiative amidst the AI “chaos”. The translation industry has experienced significant technological disruption for as long as I can remember, with the adoption of Machine Translation (MT) and post-editing workflows, and now with the fast-creeping-pace of the Artificial Intelligence “monster”. All of this has raised concerns about the impact on translators' working conditions, job satisfaction, and the sustainability of the translator workforce. But hasn’t it always been like this? Was it not like this when the Altair “PC” started replacing the fancy electrical typewriter translators used in the 80s? I think these questions are for another time.

The T-WRQoL Survey's approach to examining the general work-related quality of life and translator-specific factors is laudable. The survey acknowledges the translators' unique challenges and attitudes in an increasingly digitalized and automated industry by incorporating constructs like Tech-Human Symbiosis and Translator Agency.

The pilot study's findings offer valuable insights into the complex relationship between translators, technology, and job satisfaction. The negative correlation between technology aversion and perceived career success highlights the importance of fostering positive attitudes toward technology adoption in all aspects possible. We can achieve this through proper training, user-friendly tools, and a collaborative approach that empowers translators rather than marginalizing them. And in this, my fellow translators, we all must be active players and leave passiveness for another time. Empowerment is earned, not given.

The positive correlation between post-editing experience and technology acceptance is promising, proving that familiarity and hands-on experience can tackle initial fears or resistance to change and evolve together with technology. Language Service Providers (LSPs), Contract Research Organizations (CROs), and translation employers should prioritize effective onboarding and continuous professional development programs to facilitate this transition. If the industry wants to follow the “uberization” tendencies, then we might as well “uberize” it all the way and not just on those aspects where the one with the biggest profit is the only winner.

The strong link between work enjoyment, perceived success, and intention to continue in this profession highlights the importance of nurturing real motivators. While factors like compensation and working conditions are important, the findings remind us that translators' passion for our craft and a sense of accomplishment play a crucial role in workforce sustainability. And let’s not forget that sustainability is paramount for all the parts involved, not just for us translators. As the industry continues to evolve, it is essential to prioritize translators' well-being and job satisfaction. The T-WRQoL Survey provides a valuable tool for assessing these factors and informing data-driven strategies to create a supportive and rewarding work environment.

I'm looking forward to the researchers' subsequent work, which will include administering the survey on a broad scale and using Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) to find causal links between the constructs. The results of this ambitious initiative have a huge potential to influence industry practices, promote good technology adoption, and maintain a well-trained, well-motivated, and sustainable translator workforce.

I deeply and personally thank Akiko Sakamoto, Darren van Laar, Joss Moorkens, and Félix do Carmo, the Japan Society for Promotion of Science (JSPS), the ITI, Translation Spaces, and everyone who has made this possible by investing their knowledge, time, and care in our translators’ community and for giving us a data-driven voice. Thank you!

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