EU launches linguist recruitment drive

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The EU institutions will tomorrow (13 July) launch competitions to recruit translators for five languages. The move will be followed a week later by similar moves to find interpreters for five tongues as the EU bids to address impending staff shortages.

The process of finding translators into Danish, German, English, French and Slovenian begins tomorrow, while competitions to recruit interpreters into Bulgarian, English, Dutch, Romanian and Slovenian will begin a week later.

Outlining the process at a press conference in Brussels on Friday (9 July), European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, responsible for administration at the EU executive, said "this will be the beginning of a regular annual recruitment drive for linguists," which will take place every summer.

"We expect high turnout, as we’ve just seen with the administrator competition," Šefčovič said.

The upcoming competitions will be the first for linguists to be held under the EU's new, more streamlined computer-based recruitment system (EurActiv 23/11/09), which began operating in March. That competition, designed to fill administrative posts, saw 37,000 people sit tests in just two months.

"Our translation services are the best in the world and we only recruit the best, so finding them will be a challenge […] however, I am confident we will find the right people," said Commissioner Šefčovič.

Echoing this view, David Bearfield, director of the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO), which oversees recruitment, said "we can be demanding and ask for the best, because we can offer the best".

"We're looking to ensure that we constantly provide the right people in the right numbers at the right time. An annual fixed-cycle calendar makes it so much easier to communicate job opportunities and reach out to candidates at universities as well as via Facebook and Twitter," Bearfield added.

Last month, the Commission joined other international organisations in calling for language learning in schools to be properly funded and career opportunities for professionals like interpreters and translators to be better promoted. 

The Paris Declaration warned that a "global shortage of qualified linguists" meant that without a new generation of professionals trained with the necessary language skills, "international organisations will be unable to perform their vital tasks" (EurActiv 29/06/10).

"We're facing a wave of retirements and need to replace an entire generation," said Marco Benedetti, director-general of the European Commission's interpretation department, on Friday.

Indeed, fears that the EU will face a "serious shortage" of interpreters within five to 10 years as current staff begin to retire led its institutions to run joint awareness-raising campaigns last year to encourage young people to consider language careers in Brussels. 

European Commission representatives were in France last November alongside colleagues from the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice to advertise careers as interpreters at the European Education Salon in Paris (EurActiv 20/11/09). 

November's effort follows earlier initiatives to boost interest in EU language careers among native English (EurActiv 18/02/09), Czech and Latvian speakers amid fears of a "succession crisis". 

"We’ll lose between 40 and 50% of our staff in the next ten years, while 22% of our English and 12% of our French staff will leave in the next few years," said DG Interpretation's Benedetti on Friday.

English 'a particular problem'

"English is a particular problem. In all English-speaking countries, many people think that just speaking English is enough, and you can't make translators or interpreters out of those people," he explained.

Commission Vice-President Šefčovič revealed that he had discussed the lack of English linguists with the UK's new Europe minister, David Lidington.

"We both believe we need to make an effort to recruit more graduates. New job offers in the EU institutions are very competitive compared to what is on offer for young people in the UK," Šefčovič said, explaining that it was more difficult for the EU to recruit Britons over 30 as the UK job market is often more attractive at that stage of their careers.

The director-general for interpretation went even further, insisting that awareness-raising campaigns at universities would not be enough. "We need to start much earlier with young people, because in some countries language learning is no longer compulsory after a certain age. We've started this already and we're seeing good results," he said.

The translators will be recruited at entry level (AD5), while for interpreters, recruitment will take place at both AD5 and AD7 level, which requires more experience.

All candidates will be required to pass computer-based aptitude tests. Successful candidates will be invited to spend a day (translators) or 1.5 days (interpreters) at an assessment centre in Brussels, where the focus will be on job-rated ability rather than factual knowledge.

40-50 translators and interpreters will be appointed to each of the languages in the competition in a process that is expected to last 5-9 months.  

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