Before I begin, let me just say that I have no problem with transcribers. I do have a serious problem with companies pushing the record and transcribe method as innovation when stenography was doing that and stopped doing it because it was inefficient and costly. Digital reporters and transcribers come to steno because it is the better method for the consumer, the worker, and their hands!
We face a public relations blitz on us disguised as the “field changing.” As best I can tell, this is mostly to discourage us from recruiting for and promoting stenography. Nobody else is reading that. The easiest way to win is to get the other side to not fight, or to get it to fight itself. I’ve written about nearly all of this before, but it is nice to have in one spot. Here are some truths and concepts you should know before you buy the hype that we’re a dead field.
Conclusion: There is no reason stenographers cannot fill the stenographic reporter gap if we try.
- Self-reported, transcribers can take up to six hours to transcribe one hour of testimony compared to an average via steno of one to two hours. Regular transcription can take up to six times as long or require six times as many people to produce the same work.
- Simple math, stenographers input words 3 to 4 times faster.
- Assuming a stenographer workforce of 15,000 and a projected 2030 court reporter shortage of 11,000, it’ll take 78,000 to 156,000 transcribers to replace stenographic court reporters.
- The dropout rate before NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, Open Steno, Steno Key, and other steno initiatives was about 80 to 90%. If we are looking at recruiting 100,000 transcribers, we can certainly fill a gap of 10,000 even using the terrible dropout rate from years prior to 2015.
- The Ducker Report, which forecasted the shortage, is about 7 years old, and predates the initiatives in point 4. To my knowledge, nearly all court reporter shortage numbers are extrapolated from that report, and there has not been a new study since.
- The Ducker report predates layoffs that occurred in Massachusetts and elsewhere, and happened at about the same time as a major change in New York’s Workers Comp reporting. There are likely fewer jobs and a smaller gap than forecasted, as those reporters moved to fill slots that would otherwise be empty.
- The Ducker Report showed California, by far, as being the state with the largest shortage. If we win in California, we can win anywhere.
- 70 percent of reporters are likely to retire by 2033 as of the 2013 report. This means that if the field is still ticking in 2033, it’s unlikely to go anywhere for the next 30 or 40 years while those new people move towards retirement. This means reporters today have a unique opportunity to make or break the next generation of reporters by recruiting.
- Stenographers are ten times more organized and equipped to handle the shortage. NCRA’s 2017 revenue was 5,926,647. AAERT’s 2017 revenue was 195,652. For the sake of comparison, if we divide that revenue by the cost of a membership, NCRA would have 19,755 members at a $300 membership. AAERT would have 1,565 members at a $125 membership. Obviously, these do not reflect true membership levels, but they give us an estimate of the relative strength and support of the two organizations, as well as the support we give to our continuing education culture.
- There are four AAERT-approved schools listed as of 2020. There are 25 NCRA-approved schools listed as of 2020. If we judge by approved schools, stenographers are six times more likely to close the gap.
- The turnover rates of digital reporters and transcribers are poorly documented. Ducker acknowledges that stenographic reporters tend to stay in the workforce longer. Proponents of transcription and digital reporting look to the faster training time, but a faster training time means nothing if you’re constantly having to train the 100,000 people mentioned in point 3.
- Rates for digital vary wildly, between $15 and $45 an hour. This is not so different from stenography, but we have a culture of mentorship and showing people the ropes so that they can make wise decisions. Going by the numbers in point 9, there’s just no way for them to match the infrastructure and guide new people the same way we do, and ensure that there is a balance between the worker not getting screwed and the customer getting the best value possible.
- Using the “guesstimate” of membership and support in point 9, there are simply more of us to recruit and promote this field.
- Automatic speech recognition outfits like Verbit have gone from claims of 99% accuracy in Series A funding to statements akin to “we will not get rid of the human element” in Series B funding. Automated speech proponents, time and again, have made claims they simply cannot support.
- Expectations can impact reality. How we perceive the situation can directly impact the situation. This is the major hope of digital proponents. They want you to expect your associations and field to fail. They want you to expect to be replaced.They don’t want you to fight. We’ve seen this from Veritext’s love letters and Cudahy’s constant droning about the shortage. By alternating between messages of “good court reporters will always have jobs,” and “it’s impossible to close the stenographic reporter gap,” people who want change in this field are hoping that you will see the change as not impacting you or inevitable, and therefore pull your support from associations and grassroots efforts to protect our field. Conversely, you can expect to win. Expect that if you put in your membership dues, or a little volunteer time, you’re setting us up on the path to remain a stable profession and a viable career.