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HEIW hat-trick: success at Gower College Swansea awards

Recently, HEIW won a clutch of prestigious awards around the management and evolution of our translation services, in particular, around the way we’ve integrated an apprenticeship scheme into our team development.

But what was the thinking behind recruiting an apprentice translator? Is there a read across for other roles within HEIW and beyond?

Here are some of my reflections and what I have I’ve learnt over the past couple of years around this subject.

It is universally agreed that there is a dearth of translators across Wales. The requirements of Welsh language legislation has meant that the legal requirement for translating all sorts of things such as reports, learning materials, emails, PowerPoint slides, electronic signatures, newsletters and podcasts; virtually every form of communication that we send external to the building (and a few internally as well!), has pushed the demand for translators up exponentially.

I know that I speak for my peers and colleagues across not only the NHS but also the rest of the public sector in Wales when I say that the demand has rocketed across all areas and finding translators is a very hard task.

Although it is a legal requirement, at HEIW we prefer to think here of the REAL reasons for translating our work.  Many of our undergraduates come to us having received their education through the medium of Welsh; many of our colleagues across the NHS work in predominantly Welsh speaking environments and many of our “end users” (yet another word for “patient”) come from vulnerable groups where Welsh is the only effective way of communicating with them.

So, we translate because we know that ultimately offering people material in the language of their choice does lead to better clinical and educational outcomes. So that’s why we need more translators.

There are very few, if any, career pathways for translators. It’s not taught as a subject in schools, there are no (practice focussed) undergraduate courses in it, and the majority of post graduate courses are theoretical, geared around the philosophies of translation, linguistics and lexicology, courses which teach the pragmatics of translation are few and far between, resulting in no obvious supply chain of translators into the world of employment.

Most translators can also demand a higher wage than we pay in the NHS. Most of the public sector roles within 25 miles of us pay up to 33% more than our entry level wage. They are also able to tweak premium skills payments and as a public body we can’t really compete on pay. Therefore, trying to recruit experienced translators is a tough job.

So, what can we do? The one thing that we’ve done by opening up the apprenticeship route is to provide a real, high-quality training and career path to aspirational translators and this had led us to a position where we can attract, recruit, develop and retain translators.

In collaboration with Swansea Gower College Level 4 Higher Level Apprenticeship, and Aberystwyth University we have identified phased stages in the Professional Translation MA. This has allowed us to be able to attract some very good translators to the organisation and develop the skills of our Apprentices to a stage where they become fully fledged translators.

The flexibility of hybrid working and the very nature of the translation function means that we’ve been able to employ people in an agile way. This has to be our long-term strategy, finding enthusiastic people of all ages (our two apprentices were both beyond the traditional age and broader world experience profile of apprentices) and to work with them and our educational partners to give them a training/ CPD/ career pathway which makes the experience really worthwhile for all parties.

This is what Swansea Gower College recognized in the citation which was read out when we won recently won the Welsh Language Apprenticeship Employer of the Year. 

It was recognised that we were not using Apprenticeships as a way of finding cheap labour but genuinely committed to looking to develop individuals into well trained, well-motivated and well directed employees who see the acquisition of training and qualifications starting at Apprenticeship level as a viable and attractive career path for them.

Cedron Sion’s individual awards also showed that he too had worked incredibly hard to make the most of the opportunities afforded him by the college, efforts which we at HEIW acknowledged before he completed the formal Apprenticeship qualification, by being able to promote him to a substantive, fully fledged translating role.

We still have a lot to do in terms of putting this valuable and essential offer out there into schools, colleges, the workplace and to the communities throughout Wales, but our successes so far have been extremely encouraging.

We are currently recruiting a third Apprentice to the department, in what we hope will be yet another success story, and which will further underline the importance, efficacy and attractiveness of the Apprenticeship based career pathway in translation within the NHS.