Freelancers and business owners have one thing in common. In order to stay in business, they must stay ahead of the curve. Nothing in life ever stays the same. There are changes in the economy, law, technology, and demographics. A thriving business right now could become irrelevant in a few short years.
Kodak was once a cutting-edge leader in photo industry, they are now bankrupt. When I was a boy, Atari was the most awesome thing a kid could have. Space Invaders was the top video game. Now entire packages of old Atari video games are marketed for cheap to nostalgic older people like me. Most of the video stores are now replaced by video kiosks at the supermarket; or you can just download them. If a business owner fails to have foresight, that business could end up by the wayside as well.
Now I’m not going to say that in-person interpreters will cease to exist, because there will always be a need for them. Things are changing though. Video and audio technology keeps improving and is becoming a viable method of providing interpreters.
The following are the changes or possible changes I see coming in South Carolina:
1) Shrinking limited English proficient Hispanic population, due in part to tougher laws and a weak economy. With few jobs, many undocumented workers have moved away, lessening the demand for Spanish-language interpreters.
2) Tougher immigration laws. These will make it harder for undocumented workers to return, even if the economy gets better.
3) Growing bilingual demographic. The individuals that most need an interpreter are first-generation Hispanics that have not learned English. Often, long work hours with educational deficiencies make it difficult or impossible for some to learn English. Their children, however, are another story. Second-generation Hispanics grow up and attend school speaking English. Most are bilingual and will eventually receive training, education, and enter the work force. These valuable bilingual employees will work in many different fields, reducing the need for interpreters where they work.
Also, as more bilingual children grow up, there will be more interpreters available, increasing competition and affecting interpreter rates. The law of supply and demand.
4) Technology continues to advance.
A) Sound quality continues to improve teleconferencing.
B) Video interpreting can be as easy as Skype. However, technology progresses; hospitals and courthouses are gradually using that option as a cost-effective and feasible alternative to provide an interpreter when and where needed.
I’m not convinced that computers will ever be smart enough to replace a real interpreter, but you can never say never. This is our reality right now, although we are enjoying plenty of work at this moment, what will happen if we continue to do the same? What strategy should be taken moving forward?