Professional Branding” Demanded from Professional Translators in the Gig Economy Era

米国翻訳専門職大学院(USA)副学長 堀田都茂樹

Tomoki Hotta
Vice Chancellor
Babel University Professional School of Translation

Professional Branding” Demanded from Professional Translators in the Gig Economy Era

The term “gig” was initially used for jazz and rock music, when musicians would improvise while tuning their instruments, thus performing music on the spot. This term has become widely used to describe short-term work.

Definition of the Gig Economy
The term “gig economy” refers to a general workforce environment in which short-term engagements, temporary contracts, and independent contracting is commonplace. It’s also referred to as the “freelancer economy,” “agile workforce,” “sharing economy,” or “independent workforce.” You might think it’s a buzzword, and you’d be right, but the widespread growth of startups supporting the gig economy (and the number of workers leveraging them) are a sure indication that the nature of work as we know it is changing.

Studies estimate that by the year 2020, 43 percent of the American workforce will consist of independent contractors. With digitization and automation threatening some traditional jobs, the freelance economy can provide job security, but not in the traditional sense.

In the freelance economy, workers operate as independent contractors, meaning their clients pay them an agreed-upon rate for services rendered. In an independent contracting arrangement, workers are responsible for saving and paying their own taxes and aren’t eligible for the typical benefits of full-time employment such as access to group health insurance or retirement investments and savings accounts. But thanks to the rise of the independent workforce, benefits such as health insurance coverage, independent retirement accounts (IRAs), and liability and accident insurance are more accessible than ever before. Plus, workers operating as independent contractors get to take advantage of the tax benefits of operating their own business, including tax deductions for non-reimbursed operating expenses such as travel, supplies, and the like. 
(Angela Stringfellow, a writer focusing on news, trends, and insights in marketing, business, and technology)

The type of working where workers don’t belong to a corporation or organization but receive independent work via the Internet is increasing. Such independent jobs aren’t restricted to IT related work; jobs have become diversified in translation, marketing, law, accounting, consulting, and other professions as well. With the development of AI, which has led to various types of work becoming things of the past, it appears we are entering an era of freelance work, where people surpass national borders as they contend online for jobs.

Through several gig economy services such as Upwork and LinkedIn, which provide opportunities for freelance work, users can pick and choose work as they please.

According to a survey conducted by McKinsey & Company, 64 million people in the US and EU take on at least one gig work in addition to their main occupation, not because they need to, but because they want to.

In addition, according to a survey by the US company Intuit, by 2020 43% of American workers are estimated to work as free agents and become independent contractors. Also, in a report published in July 2017 by Oxford University’s research institute, it was reported that over the prior year independent contractors had increased by 26%.

The media appears to be creating a stir, stating that we could be entering an era where people surpass national borders as they scramble for work. Although the media is adept at viewing things in a negative light, this new trend should rather be considered positively.

Although this free movement of talent surpassing national borders may appear to be the same as immigration, it must be understood that this type of employment is fundamentally different from dangerous policies accepting immigrants that can lead to a country’s loss of identity. From the viewpoint of protecting a country’s unique culture, I firmly believe that immigration should not be something taken lightly.

As a side note, regarding Japan’s current status concerning immigration, the influx of foreigners to Japan in the last year has increased by 55,000 to 391,000 people. This puts Japan in a secure 4th place (among the 35 member countries of OECD), behind Germany (2.016 million), the US (1.051 million), and England (479,000). Because other developed countries are being destroyed by accepting large numbers of immigrants, I wonder what Japan is thinking as it tries to move forward with altering its immigration policies.

In this article, let’s look at professional translators – one of the older occupations for cloud workers surpassing national borders via the Internet – and the gig economy era.

Considering this matter, did you know that the term “profession” comes from the English word “to profess”? To profess is to declare before God, and in medieval Europe workers in the following professions made a vow before God before engaging in their occupation: priests, doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers, and other specialists. It’s said that such professionals governed themselves with strict ethical values in which they were responsible to God and society when engaging in their work.

As a reference, there are various definitions regarding the concept of a professional, of which the following are some examples.

1. A professional is engaged in work based on expert knowledge and technology.
2. Such expert knowledge and technology must have a certain general versatility.
3. There must be an outside specialist organization or society in which there’s a system in place for evaluating in some way skills and other elements of professionals’ work. Also, a professional organization(s) must exist whose main purpose is to maintain standards in skill and ethics for that profession.

Translation organizations in various countries that esteem professionalism, such as Japan Translation Association (JTA), American Translators Association (ATA), the Institute of Translators and Interpreters in England (ITI), and the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters in Australia (NAATI), clearly express such ethical standards.

With this in mind, I’d like those working in translation to have a certain pride as professional translators as they engage in cloud working. To do so starts first with creating professional branding as a translator.

What field do you feel confident in specializing in as a translator? How are you going to develop in that field? As a translator, it’s important to establish your own profession domain. Then, you need to recognize deeply your role as a translator in society.

In addition, when starting out as a professional translator, you need to decide if you’re going to start out as a sole proprietor or a joint-stock company. Most people are familiar with the merits of starting as a corporation such as ease of operation, proof of experience, and taxation. As you also probably know, it’s important also to have limited liability.

I hope translators will endeavor in their work with this sense of professionalism in mind.

Even in Japan, companies such as Uber and WeWork have infiltrated their way in, and this new idea of working is gradually spreading. However, the reality is that Japan has just reached the stage where side jobs and business as a form of working have gained acceptance. Thanks to the largely government-led promotion of a “working style reformation,” Japan’s finally at the stage where the number of corporations that institute teleworking is increasing.

In the gig economy labor market, in order to make it possible to choose from a wide range of talent that isn’t limited to those within Japan, the fact that the environment of Japan’s legal system and work style is still not organized might actually help to propel activity among global gig-workers.

In any case, the gig economy era has begun. We’ve entered an era where the advanced self-management and professional branding that professional translators exemplify is being demanded.

From The Professional Translator
November 26, 2018