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Interpreting and Translating


Provides information and data on the Interpreting and Translating sector, which is one component of the Government industry.

The Interpreting and Translating sector includes qualifications in oral (interpreting) and written (translating) conversion of a language other than English to English and vice versa. VET courses at a diploma and above level are offered in this area, though higher education training may be necessary for some roles in this sector.

Nationally recognised training for the Interpreting and Translating sector is delivered under the PSP – Public Sector Training Package.

For information on other government-related training, see the Government cluster page.

Information sourced from the most recently available Skills Forecast, the Public Sector IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast.

All data sources are available at the end of the page.

IRC and Skills Forecasts

The Public Sector IRC was not required to submit an annual update to their 2019 Skills Forecast during 2020. As such, the version published in 2019 remains the most recently published Skills Forecast for this industry.

Interpreting and translating IRC’s

Employment trends

For information on employment trends, see the Government cluster page.

Training trends

Training snapshot

There was a rise in both program enrolments and program completions between 2015 and 2017 for Interpreting and Translating-related qualifications, with a substantial rise in 2017 compared to 2016. There have been substantial falls from 2017 levels in both 2018 and 2019. Program enrolments dropped from the 2017 peak of approximately 21,440 to around 4,820 in 2019. Program completions dropped from the 2017 peak of approximately 12,140 to around 2,770 in 2019.

Almost two-thirds of enrolments were at the diploma or higher level (64%). The majority of enrolments were in the Auslan program with 41% of all enrolments, followed by the Advanced Diploma of Translating with 30% and the Diploma of Interpreting with 23%. The intended occupations were Community Worker (41%), Translator (31%) or Interpreter (29%).

In 2019, the majority of Interpreting and Translating-related qualifications were delivered by private training providers (62%). Most of the Auslan training was delivered by TAFE institutes (49%), followed by private training providers (31%) and community education providers (21%). The Advanced Diploma of Interpreting was delivered by universities (57%) and private training providers (43%). Subjects in Interpreting and Translating-related qualifications were funded through domestic fee for service (41%), international fee for service (30%) and Commonwealth and state funding (29%).

The highest proportion of students enrolled in Interpreting and Translating-related qualifications were from overseas (26%). In Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland had the highest proportion of students enrolled at 25%, 20% and 18% respectively.

More than a third of all training was delivered in New South Wales (35%), followed by Victoria (26%) and Queensland (19%).

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Industry insights

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) media release, Census Reveals a Fast Changing, Culturally Diverse Nation, the 2016 Census revealed that Australia is a fast changing, ever-expanding, culturally diverse nation. Over 300 separately identified languages are spoken in Australian homes, with more than one-fifth (21%) of Australians speaking a language other than English at home. After English, the next most common languages spoken at home were Mandarin, Arabic, Cantonese, and Vietnamese.

The changing needs and demography of Australia's culturally and linguistically diverse society present an enormous challenge for the Interpreting and Translating sector. Skilled Interpreters and Translators are in high demand. The Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) connects government, businesses and communities through the provision of credentialed, cost effective and secure language services. According to the Summer 2019 issue of their Talking TIS newsletter, TIS National provided more than one million telephone interpreting services and 120,000 on-site interpreting assignments in 2018. Their number of interpreters grew as a result of recruiting new interpreters in high demand languages such as Afar, Kunama, Sango and Tibetan, which are spoken by new and emerging communities. TIS National successfully transitioned their Interpreters to the new National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) certification standards. More than 85% of TIS National's interpreting assignments are now performed by interpreters holding the new credentials.

TIS National is committed to supporting new and emerging communities settling across Australia by recruiting interpreters who speak their languages. Where NAATI testing is not available, TIS National proactively approaches interested parties and assists them in identifying development opportunities to become interpreters. This approach is crucial to ensure that as new communities settle, they can access services and remain connected through the help of interpreting services.

In the journal article Ensuring Interpreting Quality in Legal and Courtroom Settings: Australian Language Service Providers' Perspectives on Their Role, the authors found that formal training opportunities in Australia remain limited:

  • Existing courses do not cover all the languages in areas of need, even in established international and community languages, not to mention the so-called “new and emerging” (N&E) and Aboriginal languages.
  • Access to training can be difficult, especially in rural and regional Australia.
  • Of the seven Australian universities that train interpreters, only one offers interpreter training in the N&E languages.
  • Among the ten vocational institutes (TAFE), only one is dedicated to Aboriginal languages interpreting.

In the above article, the authors argue that there is a long-standing tension, in Australia and internationally, between the growing demand for professional interpreting in legal settings, including courts and tribunals, and a shortage of qualified interpreters. The article explores the ways in which eight major Australian Language Services Providers (LSPs) address the challenges of providing interpreting of a quality required in legal settings, including courts. In-depth interviews with LSPs' management reveal an uneven pattern of initiatives undertaken to address interpreter training and legal/court expertise. To mitigate risk, some LSPs, especially those employing interpreters in the Aboriginal and N&E languages, have undertaken capacity building and assumed a trainer's role not historically expected of them. While the scope of these initiatives remains limited and the pattern uneven, most LSPs have identified the necessary steps for interpreter upskilling, even if they remain aspirational.

In the journal article See You in Court: How do Australian Institutions Train Legal Interpreters?, the authors question: How well does Australia prepare interpreters to fulfil the linguistic needs of its numerous communities, including ‘established’ migrant, indigenous, ‘new and emerging’ and deaf, in a variety of legal settings? This study provides an overview of formal legal interpreter training offered by two types of educational institutions: academic and vocational.

The survey of the existing courses, curricula, aims and outcomes, content and settings, teaching methods and assessment, identifies the characteristics of these two approaches, considers advantages and disadvantages of each system, and questions their effectiveness for preparing competent graduates for legal settings. Relying on the educators' opinions, the authors consider what roadblocks Australian educational institutions encounter in meeting the requirements of the legal system and satisfying the needs of communities where qualified legal interpreters are particularly lacking.

Governments are keen to work with interpreters and translators to improve communications with people with limited or no spoken English. For example, The South Australian Department of the Premier and Cabinet has released the South Australian Interpreting and Translating Policy for Migrant and Non-Verbal (Sign) Languages. This overarching policy aims to ensure that speakers of languages other than English are not disadvantaged when accessing or receiving South Australian Government services and information. It requires all South Australian Government agencies, including statutory bodies, to have their own interpreting and translating policies that consider when and how they will: engage interpreters, bilingual staff and preferred models of interpreting; procure interpreting and translating services and preferred providers; and utilise family and friends for interpreting assistance. The policy states that all interpreters and translators engaged by the South Australian Government should be credentialed by the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) at the Certified Interpreter/Translator level. Where a Certified Interpreter/Translator is not available (sometimes in the case of rare or emerging languages), a practitioner credentialed at the Recognised Practising level may be sought from the approved service provider. Interpreters and translators should not be asked to perform a role beyond the skill level for which they are credentialed.

COVID-19 impact

The ABC News story The Coronavirus Pandemic and Bushfire Emergency Have Thrust Auslan Interpreters Into the Spotlight, highlights the vital role of Auslan (Australian Sign Language) interpreters. Between the bushfires and the coronavirus crisis, Australia's leaders have regularly appeared on television screens and social media feeds and Auslan interpreters have appeared to the side of premiers, ministers, chief health officers, commissioners and other experts. The Australian Network on Disability estimates there are about 30,000 Auslan users with complete hearing loss. While captioning has its place, it can be patchy and inaccurate and in an emergency situation, that can be deadly. The presence of Auslan interpreters has raised the profile of this important occupation and reminded Australians that Deaf people should have equal access to the same information as hearing people.

According to the article Auslan Enrolments Surge in Wake of Coronavirus, this exposure of the broader community to Auslan interpreters has led to a surge in the number of people wanting to learn sign language. In Canberra alone, there has been a 1000% surge in the number of enrolments to take part in Auslan classes, according to The Deaf Society. At the Canberra Institute of Technology, which also conducts Auslan courses, there have been more than 180 expressions of interests to take part with just three slots available in the class. More people learning Auslan means more people able to better communicate and connect with the Deaf community, which is a positive for engagement and social inclusion.

The ability to access information and support services during a public health emergency is vital for the whole community. As reported in the Winter 2020 issue of their Talking TIS newsletter, this makes the services provided by TIS National crucial for those who have limited or no English language skills. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way TIS National delivers interpreting services. Prior to COVID-19, TIS National was exploring remote and flexible telephony arrangements to strengthen business continuity measures. TIS National moved quickly to activate their plans to expand with operators working from multiple locations. Through rapid remote telephony innovations, TIS National ensured staff were able to work on stable technology from home and/or within the office. The initial measures taken across the community decreased requests for on-site services, however, TIS National anticipates that as Australia moves towards operating in a COVIDSafe environment, the number of on-site services will increase.

TIS National supported COVID-19 related national initiatives, which contributed to a much higher number of calls. For example, TIS National connected over 3,100 calls to the National Coronavirus Hotline and requests to connect to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) tripled since last year, mainly for the early release of superannuation. May 2020 had the highest monthly call volumes in three years – 15,800 calls in May 2020, compared to approximately 5,300 in May 2019.

Translators are critical during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure relevant information is translated into all the different languages spoken within Australia. For example, the Victorian Government Department of Health and Human Services has made an extensive range of Translated Resources available for the public to access via their website.

Translators are also in demand to assist with contact tracing and visiting areas with populations of speakers of languages other than English to help people understand health instructions, lockdown requirements and so on.

Links and resources

Below is a list of industry-relevant research, organisations and associations. Hyperlinks have been included where available.

Relevant research

As Auslan Interpreters Take Centre Stage, More Australians Than Ever are Learning the Language – Ilias Bakalla, SBS News

Auslan Enrolments Surge in Wake of Coronavirus – Andrew Brown, The Canberra Times

Auslan Interpreters Save Lives in Bushfires, but Only if They Make the TV Screen – Harriet Tatham, ABC Radio Sydney

Census Reveals a Fast Changing, Culturally Diverse Nation [media release] – Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)

COVID-19 is History's Biggest Translation Challenge – Gretchen McCulloch, Wired

Ensuring Interpreting Quality in Legal and Courtroom Settings: Australian Language Service Providers' Perspectives on Their Role – Ludmila Stern and Xin Liu, The Journal of Specialised Translation

Remote Interpreting Services are Essential for People with Limited English – During COVID-19 and Beyond – Judy Mullan, The Conversation

Response to COVID-19 – Translators and Interpreters Australia (TIA)

See You in Court: How do Australian Institutions Train Legal Interpreters? – Ludmila Stern and Xin Liu, The Interpreter and Translator Trainer journal

Talking TIS: Summer 2019 – TIS National

Talking TIS: Winter 2020 – TIS National

The Coronavirus Pandemic and Bushfire Emergency Have Thrust Auslan Interpreters Into the Spotlight – Holly Tregenza, ABC News

Translated Resources – Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Victorian Government Department of Health and Human Services


Industry associations and advisory bodies

Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT)

National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI)

Data sources and notes

Training data has been extracted from the National VET Provider Collection, Total VET Students and Courses from the following training package or qualifications:

  • PSP Public Sector Training Package
    • PSP20218 - Certificate II in Auslan
    • PSP30218 - Certificate III in Auslan
    • PSP40818 - Certificate IV in Auslan
    • PSP51018 - Diploma of Auslan
    • PSP52410 - Diploma of Interpreting
    • PSP52412 - Diploma of Interpreting
    • PSP50916 - Diploma of Interpreting (LOTE-English)
    • PSP50816 - Diploma of Translating
    • PSP61110 - Advanced Diploma of Interpreting
    • PSP61112 - Advanced Diploma of Interpreting
    • PSP60916 - Advanced Diploma of Interpreting (LOTE-English)
    • PSP60816 - Advanced Diploma of Translating
    • PSP61010 - Advanced Diploma of Translating
    • PSP61012 - Advanced Diploma of Translating.

This includes superseded qualifications and training packages.

Data covers a range of selected student and training characteristics in the following categories and years:

  • 2015 to 2019 program enrolments
  • 2015 to 2019 program completions.

Total VET students and courses data is reported for the calendar year. Program enrolments are the qualifications, courses and skill-sets in which students are enrolled in a given period. For students enrolled in multiple programs, all programs are counted. Program completion indicates that a student has completed a structured and integrated program of education or training. Location data uses student residence. Subject enrolment is registration of a student at a training delivery location for the purpose of undertaking a module, unit of competency or subject. For more information on the terms and definitions, please refer to the Total VET students and courses: terms and definitions document.

Low counts (less than 5) are not reported to protect client confidentiality.

Percentages are rounded to one decimal place. This can lead to situations where the total sum of proportions in a chart may not add up to exactly 100%.

Updated: 24 Nov 2020
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