Leaving the ITI: a regrettable but unavoidable decision


I know that I am certainly not alone in my decision to quit the ITI this year and can only hope that the organisation revises some of its policies and reviews its procedures to ensure that it adheres to higher ethical standards and demonstrates a greater willingness to support its members. As professionals running our own businesses, some of us require the support of our professional associations to help ensure industry-wide best practice and to secure new contacts and clients. I cannot say that I saw much evidence of either from the ITI.

I have decided not to renew my ITI membership and am sharing below my letter sent to the institute setting out some of my reasons for not doing so:

“I am writing to ask that you please put my membership on ice. In other words, I will not be renewing this year.

I regret to say that my membership has brought me nothing but spam, e-mails from agencies banned from posting jobs on Proz and who therefore trawl the ITI directory instead, and e-mails from ITI agency corporate members offering rates that no serious translator would consider. By and large, the directory listing has attracted nothing but contacts I would very much prefer to avoid. As for the subject/language networks, I attempted to join the Portuguese network, paid my dues, but the coordinator was unable to add me to the Google group for technical reasons, and the forum that has been created on the website is as dead as a forum can be – another waste of time and the small fee I paid to join.

As you know, I joined the ITI in 2013 and quite swiftly discovered it had an unfair and flawed policy on language variants and a loose and inconsistent definition of what it meant to be “ITI-assessed". I tried very hard to engage with the Chief Executive and Board on this matter but to no avail. A letter written on the subject for the Bulletin was banned. The variants issue could have been addressed very easily and swiftly. Apart from anything else, the current categories are an embarrassment and make the ITI look quite ignorant of language variants. Instead, I have been fobbed off with “We’re looking into it”, yet two years on there is no evidence of any change.

When I joined the Institute, I had already been a satisfied CIOL member for approximately 13 years. However, I had high hopes for membership of the ITI and was looking forward to finding out what my membership would bring. I would not otherwise have paid nearly £300 for my application and exam fee and a further £200+ for the first year of membership. All in all, quite a hefty outlay. Unfortunately, I have found the Chief Executive and the Board to be at best, unresponsive, and at worst, positively unwilling to engage in any constructive dialogue and dismissive of members’ concerns or points of view. The recent handling of the retired category is a case in point. The terms for the revised category would appear to have been drafted by an institute bent on losing its most long-standing members, which strikes me as a very baffling way to behave. I do not feel I can continue to support an institute that at present gives me every impression of holding its members’ opinions in such low regard.”

James Davis MITI
MITI Board, read, inwardly digest, and take rapid action to get a grip on reality.
Rose Newell
Sorry to see you've felt so let down, Lisa.

Like you, I left the ITI after having invested the time and money in becoming an MITI. Initially I was quite enthusiastic, and had/have a very good impression of some members of the Board/Executive and what they stand for. I was particularly impressed by the way Iwan Davies handled a couple of things where I was involved.

That said, you'll find good and bad in every association, and older associations tend to be resistant to outside influences and change in general. Like you, I was not at all impressed with the quality of contacts gained from the ITI Directory, and I left both the ITI and ProZ (where I had a free membership) at around the same time in order to save time answering uninteresting queries (I can be too polite to just not reply, unfortunately). It is a shame that there isn't more done to promote the directory among industry, like one has seen in such efforts by the BDÜ, as this might have led to better clients finding the directory. Nor was there any real discouragement of corporate members and non-members alike harassing members with unacceptable job offers. I say harassing, because my profile clearly stated I did not work for agencies, but still I received many queries per week from agencies who apparently overlooked this. That said, I never really raised this issue with the ITI, so I'm not sure it's fair to really complain. I felt like nothing would change, though, even if I did say something, which reveals a bigger problem in the relationship.

My second reason for leaving is my stance on the promotion of CPD and instagurus that offer something often described as 'woo' and 'fluff'. It is a shame, especially when you consider the calibre of certain Board members, that conference time and CPD points are awarded for content that does nothing to improve people's real skills as a translator - not in terms of translation skills, language skills, not subject-matter expertise. There are some outstanding members I would have relished the opportunity to learn from, so I hope this woo craze will pass and we can soon get back to focusing on being better translators.

Another reason I left was that I felt at odds with the primary message of and market served by the association. At the ITI conference a few years ago, I was surprised by the almost cartel-like prices quoted and offered by attendees (fellow translators and scouts from agencies alike). It was a rather uniform 7-8 euro cents per word in my combination, German-Englis. The prevailing attitudes and advice centred on working with agencies rather than direct clients. I was still working moving upmarket at that stage, but even then, I felt a sense of stagnation. After all, I did not take two degrees - in my foreign language and then my specialisation - only to spend my life working for agencies pressuring me on rates and telling me 8 cents a word was 'good', or even 'high'. I guess I am saying I felt a lack of aspiration and ambition, or even the fire to stoke my ambition - aside from seeing a clear image of what I did not want to become, that is.

The ultimate reason I gave for leaving was not the primary reason, but significant nonetheless: the fact I am located in Germany, and unable to attend most regular meetups and relevant CPD events. I wanted to leave on a polite note because I don't feel I personally have been treated badly by the ITI (although yes, I've heard the horror stories). I also think the ITI is built on a solid foundation. It is just that for now, our positions and paths are too divergent for membership to make much sense. We stand for different things and appear to have very different views on the profession. I sincerely hope, even optimistically believe, that this will change in the coming years, and I look forward to rejoining the association at such a time, when I am back in the UK for good.
Jason Willis-Lee MITI
Sorry to hear of you leaving Lisa. I do not share these views. nor your experience of the points you raise. By and large my joining (also in 2013) has been a very positive experience and I have found some desirable work through the Institute which has of course been welcome. For these reasons I have no plans to suspend my membership at present.
Lisa Simpson
Thanks to both of you for your comments.

Jason, in terms of work, all the requests I received came from agencies or the odd individual wanting certificates translated. I really do not feel the membership fee justifies this. I am quite capable of contacting agencies myself should I wish to work for them. I suspect part of the problem was that I was placed in a “variant” category in the directory (Brazilian Portuguese), not having been told this would be the case before I sat the exam. It is precisely because of this mishap that they have since clarified requirements on the website, but in the two years since I’ve been a member the ITI has done nothing about sorting the variants issue (see my first blog post here for more details). In raising my concerns, which affect not just me but any associates or other translators considering joining in these language combinations, I felt I was being treated like an obstreperous teenager and I’ve seen very much the same attitude towards our older members who are rightfully objecting to the revised retirement category. In terms of age and experience I am caught between the two, I do not need the directory for work and nor am I coming up for retirement. However, I do not feel I can continue to pay a membership fee to an institute that is so apparently unwilling to address members’ concerns.
Lisa Simpson
Any ITI members wishing to read the discussions this blog post gave rise to can visit the LinkedIn group at https://www.linkedin.com/groups/1448647/1448647-6122770293242019841
or the ITI forum at http://www.iti.org.uk/my-iti/forums/general-forum/625-linkedin-thread-on-leaving-the-iti
or of course feel free to post a comment here.
Debbie C
Lisa, I haven't left ITI yet, but do share your concerns. I am having serious issues - and other colleagues have also reported the same problems - with one of their corporate members. I will try to get a critical mass to see if ITI can make a complaint to this corporate member, however my hopes are slim. In terms of language variants, I raised this issues myself when assessed for interpreting and they did seem to listen to me. Still, I see little from ITI in terms of promoting the profession to direct clients, who are much more profitable than agencies. I do share your concerns and I am watching this space. The problem is that - in the UK - associations do not seem to represent us or fight for better working conditions. We are left to our own devices and to a divide and conquer strategy by agencies. I feel very sad about that.
Lisa Simpson
Thank you for your comment Debbie.

Another interpreter in one of my language pairs reported having no assessment at all – just an interview in English. Are interpreters free to offer and be listed for as many variants as they wish? Translators are required to sit an exam (at a cost of £378) for each and every variant, which the ITI describe as separate “language combinations”, so Portuguese (presumably European?) to English and Brazilian Portuguese to English are different “language combinations”, as is “French” and “French (Swiss)” and so on. I have sat the Diploma in Translation as well as many translation exams for international organisations and government bodies and have never known a source language variant to be specified or a test in one variant precluding you from translating from another. We are professionals and in the same way that I turn down work outside my scope of expertise I would also turn down work in a variant I was not comfortable with.

The ITI seems to do nothing about exploitative agencies who are banned from posting jobs on other sites and about whom members have made repeated complaints (this was touched upon in the LinkedIn discussion referenced above) but please do try and get a group together and ensure you report this to them. At the moment, they are not doing us or potential direct clients any favours by continuing to support unscrupulous agencies. Indeed, closer ties with agencies/translation brokers as well as multiple other commercial endeavours (CPD businesses, insurance companies, CAT tools) appears to be all they are actively promoting. You really have to ask yourself why??
Dr Margaret Watts
I am an affiliate member. I could go on for hours about the problems I have. I haven't even joined the specialty groups that suit me as they aren't helpful to mr. There has been no attempt whatsoever to look at the problems we have. These are entrenched in the ITI. Do you want me to stay or not?
I would love an answer
Lisa Simpson
Margaret, it would be interesting to hear what problems you’ve encountered.

I find the five-year limit on being an associate (possible affiliate too?) before being forced into paying full membership fees very unsatisfactory. As I remember, this was introduced a couple of years ago. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a mass exodus in three years’ time.

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