Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you prefer, the one thing you can say with certainty is that almost nobody predicted the events of 2016! All those speakers who wind up at the various language industry events each year talking about the “Future of the Industry” are really offering a best guess without any solid evidence that trends will materialize or fade away.
When it comes to gazing into your crystal ball and looking ahead, how can you make an accurate prediction? The bottom line is you simply cannot predict the future. All you can do is prepare for a variety of likely scenarios and that is where true planning begins.
For instance, what would happen if the European Union falls apart without the Brits? Suppose Greece keeps bleeding money, scraps the required reforms and Germany can’t afford to keep bailing them out? Things may come apart quickly and if you are one of the Language Service Companies holding large contracts providing translations for the EU, all that comes to a screeching halt. Or would it? The sheer momentum of such a bureaucratic leviathan as the EU would not just disappear overnight. Perhaps the EU splits into a Northern Alliance and a Southern Alliance? Would the language industry continue on autopilot? Would some other agency pick up the budget and responsibility for translations? Of course, the volume of government regulations requiring translation may undergo a significant decrease, freeing up translation resources for more value-added work. That may also mean more competition for those with commercial clients as LSCs that only worked for the EU seek new clients.
In the United States, suppose there is a strong push for English as the official language and it becomes law. The demand for English as a Second Language (ESL) classes would most likely spike. Translation and interpreting requirements also received a boost with “Right to Understand” legislation (did anyone predict the impact of that?), but would having an official language requirement override the requirement to ensure every worker understands hazard warnings and labels? Would election ballots only be offered in English? The sharp decline in oil prices hit the energy sector hard and was quite unpredictable. Many vendors serving this sector were hit hard, including LSCs, but in terms of scenarios, who was thinking oil prices would fall by more than two-thirds? Oil prices seem to be set in this lower range for the long term, so what other benefits will this provide and where are those new opportunities?
When looking into the future, play “what if” scenarios in a way that removes political bias, personal bias or personal desire and try to see things as they really are. Look for information on existing clients as well as information on potential clients. Are clients planning mergers or acquisitions? Has your client recently undergone a significant internal structural change? Do your clients see growth in 2017 or are they still unsure of costs such as healthcare, taxes and regulatory mandates? We may not see any clear business trends until mid-2017, and by then you should be planning ahead for 2018. Are the trends toward increased government spending or spending cuts. We all know that governments seldom make overall cuts, but if you are providing service to a specific department, they may well experience a budget reduction. Analyzing scenarios requires both a “big picture” perspective and a more detailed approach, so if you are naturally inclined one way, find someone else who can balance your analysis with the other perspective.
Every change in government, economy, technology and society presents pitfalls and opportunities, how you prepare for likely outcomes will greatly impact your success.