The Irony of ISO Certifications

ISO certifications have become a trend amongst translation agencies. Such a certification undoubtedly sounds like a mark of professionalism and commitment to certain standards, and of course it is reassuring to potential clients. Sadly, it is one of those things that “look great on paper but”: the new demands this creates can prove detrimental to the agency-translator relationship.

In the UK, a professional translator is usually at least an Associate, if not a full Member, of either the CIOL and/or the ITI. This means that our qualifications and references have been checked, that we have sufficient professional experience (in the case of Members especially), pay an annual fee and abide by the institute’s Code of Conduct. The CIOL also encourages its members to submit an annual record of their CPD activities.

That an agency should check these things all over again and more (some go as far as to request copies of passports, birth and marriage certificates, which is unnecessary and quite frankly unacceptable) suggests that, in their opinion, being a member of an institute is meaningless (!) and that they know better (!!). Since most translators have jumped through many hoops already to be accepted by one of the institutes, to repeat a similar process with every single agency we approach – or that approaches us after finding us, ironically, on the CIOL or ITI directory – (with different forms to fill in and slightly different requirements each time) only to be added to a database, with no guarantee of future work, is hardly justifiable and a waste of everyone’s time. The idea that if they want the work, translators will just have to bend over backwards is common amongst agencies and in some cases verges on bullying so that the more confident, capable and established translators refuse to work for them. If we are busy, we neither need nor have time for this extra paperwork.

The irony goes further still: agencies must ask their existing and regular translators to provide these documents too, just to tick boxes, saying that if we don’t provide the information they will no longer be able to send us work. So bureaucracy takes precedence over loyalty and proven quality of work in the end. This is where it backfires: rather than forcing translators to comply, the trend is actually putting an end to many years-long working relationships, with these experienced translators turning more and more to direct clients, and inexperienced and desperate ones replacing them so that the agencies end up with a weaker pool of linguists.

In my opinion, this is a symptom of the lack of understanding and awareness of what being a translator means and requires. If end clients knew about the institutes and their respective directories, many would bypass the agencies, save money and reap the benefits of working directly with professionals who care about work well done rather than just the commission.

sad-looking seal with hoops

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