How AI Affected Translation and Language Professionals

OECD Not Lost in Translation report

Published on Apr 25, 2023

Updated on Aug 29, 2023

Written by Mariana Marques

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Who hasn’t used Google Translator at least once when travelling? AI translators have become our best friends to overcome language barriers, but before AI took the world by storm, we had actual human language professionals do their job. As AI becomes smarter and more accurate, what are the consequences translators and language professionals have to face? 

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) used Lightcast data to build its Not Lost in Translation report, analysing the impacts of AI on translators/language professionals occupations and skills trends. In this article, we take you through just some of the major findings.

Translator machines vs. language professionals: who’s winning?

Lightcast data show that there hasn’t been much variation in the number of online job postings for Professional Translators and Interpreters in the 4-year period studied, particularly in English-speaking countries. The United States and Canada lead the way, with the highest number of online job postings for language professionals, and a notable growth between 2018 and 2019. The United Kingdom showed a considerable decline between 2016 and 2017, but the numbers have been relatively stable ever since. 

Trend in online job postings for language professionals in English-speaking countries

European countries show a similar picture. All countries showed an increase in the number of language professionals job postings between 2015 and 2019 except for Sweden. In absolute numbers, Germany has a strong lead over the other countries studied. Despite the downward trend between 2018 and 2019, the change isn’t significant. 

Stability, in this case, is very good news for translators. Despite the rise of AI in their sector, this hasn’t affected the demand for language professionals in the countries studied, and humans have not been replaced by machines during this time period. 

How AI changed skills demand for language professionals 

The rise of AI skills 

Just because the demand for translation and language occupations wasn’t affected by AI, it doesn’t mean AI didn’t shake things up. Quite the opposite, actually. In 2015, AI core skills were requested in 1.4% of job postings for language professionals in the EU countries studied. This percentage increased to 3.6% in 2019, which reflects the propagation of AI technologies in this field. 

The figures are even larger in English-speaking countries, with every one in ten job postings requesting an AI core skill, and around 14% requesting an AI-augmented skill (additional AI skills related to computer programming). Note that data between English-speaking and European countries isn’t comparable, as they use slightly different skills taxonomies. 

Postings for language professionals mentioning AI skills in English-speaking countries

Machines first, humans second?

An interesting surge in editing and post-editing skills can also be observed in English-speaking countries. As of 2019, over 4.5% of language professionals job postings requested these skills. This could mean that human language professionals are a second step in the translation process, editing the work AI has produced and ensuring its quality before it is published. 

Higher requirements 

Many other changes were spotted in skills demand over the period studied. While AI hasn’t replaced humans, it may have played a role in increasing the number of skills required for language professionals roles. In 2015, each job posting in English-speaking countries mentioned an average of 8 skills. This number grew to 12 in 2019. 

Going digital 

In the report, Lightcast skills data was divided into three different categories: knowledge, transversal and digital skills, to help us understand what exact skills were changing. For instance, the share of postings requesting digital skills varied between 26% in 2015 to 33% in 2019 in English-speaking countries. Within the digital skills category, writing, office tools and collaboration software, and telecommunication skills were the most demanded. 

The Lightcast data collected

To understand the scope of the report, it is worth knowing the time series and countries analysed. OECD used Lightcast data from 2015 to 2019, purposely pre-pandemic to ensure stability in the trends. The analysis is based on online job vacancies in English-speaking countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK, and the US), and some European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Sweden), and narrowed down to the occupation of Professional Translators and Interpreters. 

Digital skills groups demanded in online job postings for language professionals in English-speaking countries

Using Lightcast to analyse the impacts of AI on your sector 

We’ve mentioned just some of the key points of the report in this blog, but it contains much more detailed analysis, particularly drilling down on the types of skills requested for language professionals roles, and how these have changed over the period studied. Labour market data opens up a whole suite of possibilities for organisations, and enables us to really understand the impacts of outside trends, such as the growth of AI, in the workforce. 

OECD trusted Lightcast’s unparalleled job postings and skills data to provide them with the solid empirical analysis they needed for this report. If your organisation needs strong evidence for the critical decisions it takes relating to jobs and skills, trust us – we can help. Reach out to our team below and let’s solve labour market challenges together. 

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