What to Do About the Talent Crunch in Media Localization

Media Localization Talent Crunch in Dubbing and Subtitling

As streaming platforms take over the world and the volume of content continues to increase, a shortage of talent has become one of the biggest challenges for the media localization industry. This talent shortage relates mainly to specific roles, such as voice-over actors and dubbing directors, or subtitlers in new language combinations.

With large media localization providers working in more than 100 languages, and non-English content growing strongly, industry experts predict that the situation will get worse in the coming months; and even the traditionally better-resourced pool of subtitling talent will become strained.

“How we handle this capacity constraint going forward will be one of the biggest challenges we will have to face as an industry,” said Yota Georgakopoulou, Audiovisual Localization Consultant at Athena Consultancy.

Sourcing talent and homing in on the skill set required by organizations is now more important than ever.

Stress and Burnout

With global demand for entertainment content growing fast, it should be a “golden moment” for those working in the media localization industry. Instead, what Max Deryagin, chair of the British Subtitlers’ Association SUBTLE and co-founder of the AudioVisual Translators Europe (AVTE) machine translation working group, sees is widespread stress and burnout among subtitle translators, working around the clock in many cases, trying to make ends meet.

As Mazin Al-Jumaili, VP Talent Management and Business Development EMEA at ZOO Digital, admitted, language service providers (LSPs) are “handing out localization projects to the freelance community,” but they need them done in a third of the amount of time.

During a SlatorPod episode, Localization Coordinator and Japanese-to-English Translator, Katrina Leonoudakis, referred to the two biggest issues faced by those working in the media localization industry. LSPs unwilling to pay the additional rates for a skilled translator, on the one hand, and media companies that do not value localization as part of their media package, on the other. “We have no dearth of talent or experienced translators,” she noted.

The unattractive working conditions — such as low remuneration, precarious status, and lack of recognition and visibility — have been reported as the main reasons for the shortage of translators, according to a recent EU Council report. In addition, the use of machine translation (MT) adds further pressure on translators working in this field and threatens the quality of subtitles and dubbing.

Along the same lines, the Machine Translation Manifesto published by AVTE suggests that the fragmented nature of subtitling as well as MT usage and the shift to post-editing have led to lower pay and decreased work satisfaction for subtitlers, and thus to brain drain and the current talent crunch.

As a result, the most experienced translators decide either to leave the localization industry for better-paid translation jobs or to switch careers altogether.

Formal and Non-formal Education

To help address the talent crunch, companies are now “offering much better rates […] sometimes more than double,” said Deryagin during the panel session, The Talent Crunch — Does it Exist and can it be Addressed?, at the sixth annual Content Workflow Management Forum (CWMF).

Besides improved rates, Deryagin added, companies also offer better and more relaxed working conditions, while pay is now often offered via retainer (i.e., a monthly flat fee as an incentive to prioritize an organization’s projects). 

On the education front, Jorge Diaz-Cintas, Professor of Translation Studies at University College London, said during the aforementioned CWMF panel session that more universities around the world need to be teaching localization skills across multiple languages. “In certain languages we are very well served, but there are also languages that we are struggling with,” he explained.

According to Diaz-Cintas, the goal is to not only bridge the gap between industry and academia, but also between academia in Western countries — where there is technology and know-how — and universities in other parts of the world.

Moreover, he suggested much more collaboration in the form of non-formal education; this could be through intensive courses, summer courses, or day courses on very specific topics, such as creating templates, he said. “As far as I know, nobody has trained anyone academically on how to create templates,” Diaz-Cintas pointed out.

The good news is that a number of training initiatives, such as the audio-visual translation (AVT) masterclass offered by a group of well-known academics at the University of Warsaw, have already been launched. In addition, to solve the talent crunch, attract more people to localization, and guide them on how to work with LSPs and clients, companies are now launching their own academies, such as the ZOO Academy launched by ZOO Digital.

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Guarantee of Excellence and Professionalism

In such a booming industry with talent-shortage issues, it is important to be able to quickly source new talent with the linguistic and technical skills required to competently perform tasks common in today’s subtitling workflows, said Athena’s Georgakopoulou, who served as CWMF panel moderator.

According to Diaz-Cintas, the AVT Pro Certification will solve this issue enabling the speedy identification and recruitment of human resources. More specifically, the certification will serve as a proof of quality and competence. It will also be recognized and accepted by both industry and academia and provide candidates, employers, and clients with a unique guarantee of excellence and professionalism.

The certification is expected to be rolled out in late 2022 for certain languages. Candidates will be able to take tests on subtitling, captioning, and spotting.