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The Talent Trap

There are some cool careers in Localization. You probably aren’t qualified for them…but you might get the job anyway. Here’s why.

According to Attracting and Developing Talent (ADT), an initiative of Localization World, many people looking to enter a career in localization lack the proper training and hard skills needed for the field, especially in the areas of Translation, Technology and Business. That’s scary – are these not at the core of localization? And if the coolest companies on the planet like Google, Facebook, and Apple are have trouble attracting the right talent, the rest of us may be in trouble.

If you want to know how bad the problem is, just place a job posting on LinkedIn or Indeed for a developer that understands localization. They don’t seem to exist. Even decent translators are in short supply. Translation buyers and vendors alike find themselves turning away college graduates that do not even know the basics of grammar, punctuation or sentence structure. ­

A skills shortage is leading to entry-level vacancies

At fault are, of course, not the job candidates but the very institutions that educate them. Colleges and universities are guilty of driving an entire generation into debt and in return “educating” them for nothing in particular. Paypal Founder Peter Thiel summarizes it best in his book Zero to One:

“In middle school, we’re encouraged to start hoarding ‘extracurricular activities.’ In high school, ambitious students compete even harder to appear omnicompetent. By the time a student gets to college, he [or she has] spent a decade curating a bewilderingly diverse résumé to prepare for a completely unknowable future. Come what may, [he or she is] ready — for nothing in particular.”

Colleges and universities call it a “rounded education.” And according to Thiel, the students that do specialize “become extremely skilled at a few specialties, but many never learn what to do with those skills in the wider world.”

The result: In the United States, 37% of college students are under-employed and 19.5% are unemployed. In India, one in three graduates up to the age of 29 is unemployed. In China, the unemployment rate for college graduates could be close to 30% — some 2.3 million unemployed from last year’s graduating cohort alone, according to Joseph Cheng, professor of political science at City University of Hong Kong.

A recent survey conducted by Intel found that 39% of employers say a skills shortage is a leading reason for entry-level vacancies. 61% of employers surveyed in India, and 85% in Japan, said talent shortages prevented them from hiring people with needed skills.

College is the enemy

To make matters worse, colleges are sending unprepared or unqualified students into the work-world buried under a mountain of debt from paying for their education. College debt in the US trumps mortgages and credit card debt combined.

 

 

Talent Trap 1

Team Lawless learned more from LinkedIn Diva Lori ruff in one day than they ever learned in school. Wendy Chang, Lori Ruff, Kat Phillips, Stephany Twomey.

It’s not only an American problem. While colleges in Sweden are totally free, 85% of Swedish students graduate with debt, versus only 50% in the US. In the United Kingdom, the government expects the value of outstanding student loans to reach over £100 billion. And while a college education in Germany is free, Germans pay for it with a total tax wedge of 49.5% versus 31.5% in the US (latest report from Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD). Colleges do cost money – even in Germany – and someone has to pay for it. For example, one student in Berlin costs the country, on average, €13,300 ($14,600) a year.

Germany’s news magazine ‘Der Spiegel’ reports that about 21% of German students suffer from depression, anxiety, or psychological strain. About a third of German students drop out of college as a result.

The question is:  Where does this leave us in localization? When students are being betrayed by the institutions that are supposed to prepare them for the future, where will our new talent come from? How do we create a future for a new generation within our companies?

We have got to take education into our own hands

Employers in localization need to recognize that a college degree is shouldn’t be the chief entry-level qualification for new hires. Other criteria can play an additional role or even replace a college degree completely. Our understanding of job eligibility needs to evolve in order for us to look beyond an expensive piece of paper. We can accomplish this by evaluating applicants not on their degree, but on the quality of their character.

So, keep an eye out for the best learners and problem solvers. Look for good judgment and the ability to get the job doneFind people that are most willing to work hard. And equally important, identify the ones who are the most likable and pleasant in their interactions with others. As the Harvard Business Review states, “Employees who are smarter, nicer, and more hardworking than their peers will always be in demand.”

The challenge for employers is how to do this. There has been much innovation in talent identification over the past five years – including the use of algorithms to translate people’s web and social media activity into a quantitative estimate of job potential or fit. In the digital age, LinkedIn endorsements and recommendations — but also comments, photos, and videos posted by colleagues, clients, friends, and family on social media — often can tell employers more about a person than a college degree.

Companies like Southwest Airlines demonstrate that hiring for attitude and training for skills is the right way to go. College grads have been conned into an inadequate education, and you will need to invest the time and effort to fill in the gaps. If you hire someone who’s willing to learn, your job will be a lot easier.

Everything is figureoutable

One phrase you hear at lot at Team Lawless is “Everything is figureoutable” (courtesy of Marie Forleo). Ten years ago, online resources were limited and students were dependent on a good library, great teachers and professors. Today, we can educate ourselves just as well without them – often even better. Google and Bing give us access to almost all knowledge we need to teach ourselves new skills. We will take a self-learner over someone with a formal degree any day.

Once on board, every member of Team Lawless is encouraged to go through Marie Forleo’s Business School and Copy Cure to teach themselves the basics of marketing. We partner with customers to help move Millennials from first-jobbers to high performers. We are lucky to have great customers that have even volunteered to be mentors to our team members. Our partners and friends take time out of their full schedules to help ramp up our young staff fast.

To drive a work culture of excellence, we have reduced our staff manual to five rules that we learned from Simon Sinek that are designed to move people forward: Start what needs to be started. Make the decision that needs to be made. Help others. Ask for help. Take time off to do something that inspires, excites and energizes you. In addition, every team member is highly encouraged to volunteer for a cause that contributes to the community – and they can take one day off each month at full pay to do so.

Talent Trap 2

The complete staff manual for Team Lawless – a living document that produces ‘kick-arse” localization professionals. Courtesy of Simon Sinek.

The best part about our simple approach: it works. Our sales manager started producing hot leads within six weeks. My former personal assistant is now what our customers call a “kick-arse” consultant – after only a year out of school. What’s even more notable is that our customers do not find it odd. They agree that giving millennials a chance to develop new skills and hone their strengths in an environment that encourages them to take action – even if they fail – is the right decision that needs to be made. In the end, when you deliver the right results, that’s all that counts.

Go for it – and share your story

A larger consulting firm than Rockant, Ernst & Young, announced in September 2015 that it will be removing the degree classification from its entry criteria, saying there is “no evidence” success at university correlates with achievement in later life. There are now “open opportunities for talented individuals regardless of their background” in the company.

Gaenor Bagley, head of people ay PricewaterhouseCoopers announced last May that ”as a progressive employer we recognize that talent and potential presents itself in different ways and at different stages in people’s lives. By breaking down social barriers we will open the door to thousands of students who may have previously thought a graduate role with PricewaterhouseCoopers was out of reach for them.”

Google does not ask for GPA or test scores from candidates anymore, because they don’t correlate at all with success at the company. Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations Laszlo Bock explains why “Academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment,” he says.

Of course, statistically, college is still the surest way of learning advanced engineering and other skills that get you a job at Google. But the winds are changing.

Even the most prestigious institutions will look beyond your formal degrees. In 1999 the World Bank headhunted me to become the Head of its translation and interpretation unit. As a college drop-out, I was the least formally qualified for a job that required either a PhD or an MBA. Nonetheless, after shortlisting 84 candidates, interviewing eight of them in two-day marathon meetings, they tweaked the Bank’s HR system to get me on board. The Federal Bureau of Investigation sponsored my top-secret clearance in 2011, so that I could assist the Behavioral Science Unit in its research. Before that, I served as General Manager for Central and Eastern Europe for Berlitz and as General Manager for North America for the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group that owns Scientific American.

If I can do it, you definitely can too. Go for it – and share your story with me.

Be kind to yourself,

Andrew

March 13, 2017

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