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Don't Judge an LSP by its Staffing Model

Text: Don't Judge Your LSP by its Staffing Model

When speaking with organizations about telephone interpreting services, I'm often asked about our interpreter staffing model, i.e. where our interpreters are located. Prospects want to know:

  • Are they sitting in a contact center or do they work from home?
  • Are they based in the United States or located offshore?
  • Are they employees or independent contractors?

Of course, I am happy to answer these questions, but I always like to dig a little deeper to understand why people are really asking these questions. After further conversation, I usually discover that people aren't actually concerned with interpreters' physical location or employment classification, but what they believe it means about the quality of service they're going to receive.

Before I get into debunking these misconceptions, let's take a look at the most common interpreter staffing models, and what they really mean for you as the end user.

Telephone Interpreting Models

Today, there are three primary telephone interpreting models used by LSPs: 

US based-01
Domestic Call Center Model 
independent contractor-01
Virtual Call Center Model
Offshore Call Center Model

And each of these telephone interpreting models dictate three key things about an LSP – where its interpreters work (contact center vs. work from home), where its interpreters are located (U.S. vs. international), and the employment classification of its interpreters (employee vs. independent contractor).


  Virtual Call Center Model Domestic Call Center Model Offshore Call Center Model
Interpreter Workplace

Remote, work-from-home

Brick & mortar 
contact center
Brick & mortar 
contact center
Interpreter Location United States United States International
Employment  Classification Independent Contractors or Employees Employees  Employees 



These beliefs (or misconceptions) people have about interpreter staffing models typically stem from statements made by LSPs in favor of their own staffing models – LSPs operating one model claim to be more secure, while the other argues they're more scalable. Some claim to offer better quality, and others more languages. While arguments can be made on either side, the truth is, times are changing. 

The old way:

The traditional telephone interpreter staffing model involves employed interpreters servicing customer calls in a physical, brick and mortar facility. In this model, all calls are routed through a single, physical location so LSPs hire interpreters who live within a drivable distance of the call center. Interpreters commute to the call center for their scheduled shifts and typically service calls under the supervision of a call center manager. Because interpreters are hired as employees of the company, this model enables LSPs to hire interpreters with varying levels of experience, as they're able to provide on-the-job training. 


Domestic Brick and Mortar Contact Center

US based-01
  • Interpreter Employment Classification: Full-time (FT) or part-time (PT) employees
  • Interpreter Workplace: Brick and mortar call center
  • Interpreter Geographic Location: United States, within a commutable distance from LEP's call center


independent contractor-01

Virtual Contact Center
Interpreters are independent contractors, not employees of the company, and typically work remotely in a home office.



Offshore Brick and Mortar Contact Center
Interpreters are FT or PT employees of the company, and work in a contact center located outside the United States.


As new technology emerged, contact centers had the ability to seamlessly route calls to anywhere in the world. In an effort to reduce operating expenses and achieve the scalability required to support the growing LEP population, new LSPs emerged with virtual contact centers.


  • additionally to cut costs, organizations began outsourcing interpretation. lower cost of living, cheaper rates, could be more competitive. concerns with quality
  • Some LSPs utilize a single staffing model, while others might use a combination of two or more staffing models (commonly referred to as a hybrid model).


Today there are three primary interpreter staffing models:


Domestic Brick and Mortar Contact Center
Interpreters are full-time (FT) or part-time (PT) employees of the company, and work in a contact center located in the United States


Some LSPs utilize a single staffing model, while others might use a combination of two or more staffing models (commonly referred to as a hybrid model).



Which interpreter staffing model is most common? 

According to The Interpreting Marketplace, a 2010 study published by Common Sense Advisory, 93.7% of LSPs use independent contractors in some capacity. The majority of LSPs (63.6%) utilize independent contractors exclusively, while close to a third (30.1%) use a mix of employees and independent contractors. Only a small percentage of LSPs (6.3%) employ 100% of their workforce. 


 The new way: 

Technology has drastically changed the composition of today's workforce, blurring the lines between what used to be clearly defined workspaces and worker types. 

With technology that makes it possible to seamlessly route calls to anywhere in the world, call centers are no longer constrained by geography when making hiring decisions. Today contact centers have the ability to source talent from across the globe, giving them access to a much broader pool of resources.  Likewise, individuals seeking work now have access to more opportunities, providing them with more job choices than ever before. Much of the working class is favoring gig-based work... TK




How staffing models affect your telephone interpreting services:








Debunking common misconceptions about interpreter staffing models:

There are common misconceptions in the language services industry about interpreter staffing models and how they affect the quality, scalability, and affordability of telephone interpreting services. My goal is to debunk these myths by providing transparency into where they originated, and revealing what may (and may not) be true about each of them.

Click below to learn more about common misconceptions surrounding interpreter staffing models and how they affect quality, scalability, and affordability of telephone interpreting services:





Misconception #1: the employment classification of an LSP's interpreters affects the quality of services (employee vs. independent contractor model)

 Where the misconception originated:

There are employment and labor laws in the United States that control the extent to which companies' are able to provide independent contractors with training. As a result, LSPs that utilize the U.S. contact center model promote their ability to train interpreters, claiming that it enables them to offer higher-quality services. 

 Why it may (and may not be) true:

LSPs that employ their interpreters do have a unique ability to provide on-the-job training, which can be beneficial for interpreters who don't already have professional interpreting experience and/or haven't pursued interpreter training and education through other available methods.  However, the conclusion that LSPs that utilize the U.S. contact center model provide higher quality services is simply untrue, as it's based on several false premises.

For example, it assumes that all LSPs that utilize the U.S. contact center model are providing interpreters with training, simply because they have the legal right to do so. Furthermore, it assumes that the training is being provided effectively, and that training is the only means of achieving quality.

An LSP that employs its interpreters could, in fact, offer higher quality services than another LSP that uses independent contractors, but it's not simply because they employ their interpreters and can provide training. Here's why:

    1. There are other means of ensuring interpreters are qualified and experienced: While on-the-job training can be valuable for interpreters that are new to the industry, there are other ways of ensuring interpreter quality. By recruiting interpreters through relevant industry organizations and certification databases (such as the American Translators Association and Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters), LSPs can ensure they're hiring individuals who are qualified to interpret in a professional setting. Additionally, LSPs can maintain strict requirements for minimum qualifications, such as requiring interpreters to have a certain amount of professional interpreting experience and/or relevant education. Conducting background and reference checks during the hiring process is another way to verify interpreters' qualifications. By thoroughly vetting candidates as part of the on-boarding process, LSPs can verify that they're hiring professional, experienced interpreters that don't require on-the-job training in order to provide high-quality interpreting services.

    2. Employers can provide independent contractors with optional support resources and opportunities for education: Employment and labor laws in the U.S. state that employers cannot require independent contractors to participate in mandatory training. They can, however, offer support resources and opportunities for continuing education and training that interpreters can participate in voluntarily. The most engaged interpreters will take advantage of these opportunities to continue improving their craft, whether they're mandatory or not. 

    3. Professional interpreters pursue interpreter training and education through a variety of sources, separate from their employers: According to a survey conducted by Common Sense Advisory (which is believed to be the largest and most comprehensive study on the topic), professional interpreters pursue training and education through multiple sources, separate from their employers. Industry conferences were identified as the primary source for training and education, with the majority of interpreters receiving training and education through conference workshops (56.8%) or presentations (42.6%). Interpreters also pursued a variety of industry training programs; 27.7% completed multiple industry training programs totaling 40 hours or more, and 18.5% completed a single industry training program totaling 40 hours or more. Other common sources for interpreter training included online courses (14.3%) and webinars (13.2%).

    4. Professional interpreters (both employees and independent contractors) are very well educated and have significant experience: According to the Common Sense Advisory study mentioned above, 92.4% of professional interpreters surveyed had a college degree or higher, and nearly half of respondents had advance degrees, with 38.4% achieving master's degrees and 6.3% with doctoral degrees. The majority of interpreters (76.5%) had over 5 years of professional interpreting experience, and 40.7% had over 15 years of experience. 

    5. There are national standards of practice and codes of ethics that promote quality and consistency in the field of interpreting: The National Standards of Practice for Interpreters in Healthcare published by the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC) and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters & Translators' Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibilities are two examples of industry standards and ethical principles that establish best practices in the field of interpreting. According to Common Sense Advisory, the majority of LSPs (88.3%) require their interpreters to adhere to a code of ethics or standards of practice. And, all LSPs (regardless of the employment classification of their interpreters) can test interpreters' understanding of, and adherence to, as part of the qualification process. 

 Key take-away:

A staffing model alone does not dictate the quality of service you'll receive. LSPs that employ interpreters and those that use independent contractors are equally capable of providing high-quality interpreting services. The focus should not be on interpreters' employment classification, but rather an LSP's interpreter qualification process, performance standards, and quality controls. 

When vetting providers, instead of asking what staffing model they use, ask about their minimum interpreter qualifications, on-boarding processes, opportunities for continuing education, quality assurance policies, and strategies for engaging interpreters.

Misconception #2: the workplace of an LSP's interpreters affects scalability (work-from-home vs. contact center model) 

 Where the misconception originated:

LSPs that utilize an independent contractor model are not limited to recruiting interpreters within a drivable distance of their physical location, so they have access to a wider pool of resources. And because interpreters are paid for services rendered (rather than a fixed salary or hourly rate), LSPs that utilize an independent contractor model can hire interpreters in excess off the workforce required to support their current volume. As a result, LSPs that utilize the independent contractor model promote that they're able to scale more quickly and support a wider range of languages

 Why it may (and may not) be true:

An independent contractor model, often referred to as an on-demand workforce, is more scalable by nature, but that doesn't necessarily mean that an LSP that utilizes an independent contractor model is guaranteed to be more scalable than an LSP utilizing a contact center model. Here's why:

  1. Contact center-based LSPs typically partner with other LSPs to support overflow and provide level of redundancy incase of disaster or other service interruption.
    It's important to note how the telephone interpreting experience might differ when working with the LSP's employed interpreters verses the interpreters from the LSP they subcontract with. To ensure a consistent experience, LSPs that subcontract services to other providers must have agreements and/or processes in place that hold the subcontractor to the same quality standards.

  2. Many contact center-based LSPs have multiple, geographically distributed contact centers. 
    Having multiple geographically distributed contact centers not only is a best practice to ensure continuity of services in the event of a natural disaster, but also increases the area from which they can recruit interpreters. 

  3. More predictable workforce/scheduling.

 Key take-away:

With effective recruiting and workforce management strategies, contact center based LSPs can be just as scalable as those utilizing independent contractors.

Benefits of data and automated alerts. etc.


TK - The inherent staffing flexibility of a home-based workforce provides extremely efficient staffing capabilities. Using a blended workforce of part-time and full-time professionals, schedules in a virtual environment can be set in 15 minute increments to closely match forecasted demand. Should the actual call volume differ from the forecast at any time, virtual call centers — where employees do not have commutes — can increase or decrease the number of agents on the phones in real-time. In some instances, agents may be willing to work multiple, split shifts in a day. In contrast, B&M centers are forced to over staff facilities to ensure adequate levels of staffing are available when call volumes are higher than anticipated. If volumes are lower than expected, these B&M centers have the added expenses of paying for on-site, under-utilized agents.

Misconception #3: 


Utilizing an LSP with offshore contact centers is more cost effective.

 Where it originated:

Lower costs of living and looser minimum wage requirements in other countries provide organizations operating outside the United States with opportunities for cost savings. For example, the federal national minimum wage in the United States ($7.25 per hour) is more than 15x and 23x the minimum wage in Mexico ($0.48 USD per hour) and India ($0.31 USD per hour), respectively. 

 Why it may (and may not) be true:

Depending where the contact centers are located, LSPs that utilize an offshore contact center model may be able to offer lower per minute rates. But, that doesn't mean their service offering, as a whole, is more cost effective than an LSP that utilizes only U.S.-based interpreters. Here's why:

  1. Price always costs something
    LSPs that have offshore contact centers, i.e. contact centers located outside the United States, may be able to offer lower per-minute rates. But, price always costs something. What might you be sacrificing for a lower cost? Ex. Walmart (from Simon Sinek's Start with the Why book) Cost of redoing it the right way. 

  2. Setup fees/monthly minimums

  3. Long term value


 Key take-away:

But also, the most qualified interpreter may be located abroad.

Focus on long term value. Do it right the first time. Cost of efficiency.


Have questions about the Language Services industry? I’m here to be a resource. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly or send me a topic you’d like to see a blog post on in the future on my (insert landing page link here)

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