BLS Statistics on Our Field May Be Unreliable

During the course of the ad campaign about US Legal’s dishonesty, an astute commentator mentioned that they believed I was giving people bad life advice by advocating for them to get into court reporting. The reasoning was actually very sound. They said the field is growing much slower than average. In fact, if you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics page for us, this is ostensibly true, the growth is a slow 3%

But this doesn’t tell us the whole story. What about if we use the WayBack machine to see what the page read in January 2014?

10% growth and an employment change of 2,000 expected by 2022! And when did that data get updated? As far as I can tell, sometime between 2014 and December 2016.

What changed between 2014 and 2016? We started recruiting more. So the idea that we went from a 10% growth to a 2% or 3% growth that then remained mostly stable until October 2021 and somehow that resulted in the addition of only 100 jobs is just ludicrous. Our big retirement shortage crisis was set to start in 2018 and continue through 2033. Ducker was a forecast made before NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, and the growth of Open Steno. The abysmal 3% growth rate is after Ducker. What’s missing? BLS has our numbers all wrong. They think about a third of the field is self-employed.

In actuality, at least according to Ducker’s 2013-2014 outlook, we’re about 70% freelance.

Some small sliver of the freelancers are employees or were in the past, but that’s the exception, not the norm.

So the BLS thinks we’re 34% self-employed. 34% of that 21,000 number is about 7,000, and we’re about 70% self-employed, which is roughly double their estimate. Based on that, I conclude they’re probably not counting about 7,000 freelancers, which puts us just ahead of NCRA’s estimate of 27,000 and gives us about 28,000 court reporters.

In brief, the health of our field may be far better than presently-available BLS statistics show. I would love to get the straight number of graduates between 2013 and 2021 and compare that to the 2018 opportunity forecasted by Ducker, which was about 5,690. The 2018 forecasted supply of stenographers was 27,610, very close to that 27,000 estimate by NCRA or my 28,000 estimate that assumes the BLS is wrong. I do not presently have access to graduate numbers, but if the graduate pool was much higher or much lower than 6,000, it would give us a more accurate picture of where we are, with a higher amount of graduates being very good and a lower amount of graduates being very bad. California would be in the most dire position. Their shortage was forecasted to be 5x to 20x worse than any other state. If California can survive and thrive over the next decade, the rest of us can too.

If we believe the NCRA’s numbers, we have likely recruited just under what we needed to by 2018. If my assessment of the BLS and Ducker data is correct, we recruited just above what we needed in 2018. Either way, it seems we will need to continue this period of heavy recruitment to keep pace with the retirements that are going to happen over the next ten years. Failing to do so would be catastrophic for our field. While I still think it’s very clear that the shortage has been exacerbated by companies like US Legal, Veritext, and Planet Depos, and am horrified by their collective, seemingly intentional, failure to attempt to recruit stenographers, at the end of the day, it’s up to us to make up for their bad behavior and end this shortage the same way we ended the last one. We have to keep building interest in this field, whether that’s through media, press releases, word of mouth, or smoke signal.

Anyone demoralized by the 3% growth number should take comfort in seeing just how fast those stats can change. Our actions greatly impact those numbers. Consider that the 10% estimate came just after a wave of recruitment by schools, the same wave that I was recruited during, and that the 3% estimate came in the middle of a depressed market where court reporters were not recommending this job to anyone because they were working very hard to maintain the quality of life of past reporters. Perhaps if investors were plopping down $200 million on stenographic companies with no future, we’d be growing at 22% too.

That’s not even a joke. Let me lose $10 million in a quarter and I’ll double everyone’s page rates. This field would be about triple its size. The money being dumped on digital reporting is literally the only thing that keeps it competitive with stenography.

If you lost $10 million between March and June, raise your hand.

The only way to get people interested in our field is to broadcast ourselves. To that end, if you or your organization would like help writing and releasing a paid press release, please reach out to me. I can’t do it for free but I’m very serious about boosting the amount of content out there on us. The numbers show that with the slightest effort we will produce more content than digital reporting companies, recruit enough people to take back the rest of the industry, and enjoy much more of our $3 billion field. Sound good? ChristopherDay227@gmail.com.

Gartner: 85% of AI Implementations Will Fail By 2022

A series of 2019 predictions by Gartner were reported on by Venture Beat on June 28, 2021. As explained in a prior post, “AI”, or machine learning, relies on datasets and algorithms. If the data is imperfect or incomplete, a computer has a chance of giving bad output. If the algorithm that tells the computer what to do with the data is imperfect, the computer has a chance of giving bad output. It’s easy to point to anecdotal cases where “AI” makes a bad call. There have been reports of discrimination in facial recognition technology, driverless cars killing people, or Amazon’s algorithm deciding to fire drivers that are doing their job. I’ve seen plenty of data on the failings of overhyped technology and commercial ASR. What I hadn’t seen prior to today was somebody willing to put a number on the percentage of AI solutions that succeed. Today, we have that number, and it’s an abysmal 15%.

Perhaps this will not come as a surprise to my readers, considering prior reports that automatic speech recognition (ASR), an example of machine learning, is only 25 to 80 percent accurate depending on who’s speaking. But it will certainly come as a surprise to investors and companies that are dumping money into these technologies. Now there’s a hard number to consider. And that 15% itself is misleading. It’s a snapshot of the total number of implementations, not just ASR. ASR comprises a percentage of the total number of implementations out there. And it’s so bad that some blogs are starting to claim word error rate isn’t really that important.

Judge,
I know I botched 20 percent of the words.
But word error rate really isn’t that important.

That 15% is also misleading in that it’s talking about solutions that are implemented successfully. It is not talking about implementations that provide a positive return on investment (ROI). So imagine having to go to investors and say “our AI product was implemented with 100% success, but there’s still no money in this.”

The Venture Beat article goes on to describe several ways to make AI implementation a success, and I think it’s worth examining them briefly here.

  1. Customizing a solution for each environment. No doubt that modeling a solution for every single business individually is bound to make that solution more successful, but it’s also going to take more staff and money. This would be almost like every court reporting company having their own personal software development staff to build their own CaseCAT or Eclipse. Why don’t they do that? It’s hopelessly expensive.
  2. Using a robust and scalable platform. The word robust doesn’t really mean anything in this context. Scalability is tied to modular design — the ability to swap out parts of the program that don’t work for specific situations. For this, you need somebody bright and forward thinking. They have to have the capability to design something that can be modified to handle situations they may not even be aware exist. With the average software engineer commanding in the ballpark of $90,000 a year and the best of them making over $1 million a year, it’s hopelessly expensive.
  3. Staying on course once in production. This involves reevaluating and sticking with something that may appear to be dysfunctional. This would be almost like the court reporter coming to the job, botching the transcript, and the client going “yes, I think I’ll use that guy again so that I can get a fuller picture of my operational needs.” It’s a customer service nightmare.
  4. Adding new AI use cases over time. Piggybacking on number 3, who is going to want to continue to use AI solutions to patch what the first solution fails to address? This is basically asking businesspeople to trust that it will all work out while they burn money and spend lots of time putting out the fire. It’s a customer service nightmare.

I really respect Venture Beat trying to keep positive about AI in business, even if it’s a hopelessly expensive customer service nightmare.

With some mirth, I have to point out to those in the field that believe the stenographer shortage is an insurmountable problem that we now know machine learning in the business world has a failure rate that’s right up there with stenographic education’s failure rate. Beyond the potential of exploiting digital reporters or stealing investor money, what makes this path preferable to the one that has worked for the last hundred years? As I wrote a week ago, the competition is going to wise up. Stenographic court reporters are the sustainable business model in this field, and to continue to pretend otherwise is nothing short of fraud.

Facebook Boosting 101

If you’re looking to promote your steno nonprofit or your primary steno business, the numbers don’t lie, marketing is going to bring more eyes to what you’re selling. That’s a common-sense statement, but let’s drive it home. This blog, on average, will get about 500 to 1000 unique visitors a month and about double the views or clicks. That’s just me writing what I write and sharing it on Facebook. In honor of CRCW 2021, I ended up posting a lot this month. I published over a dozen articles, and the “average” did not change much. Now we’ll compare that to December 2020, where I wrote three posts and advertised two on Facebook.

I wrote my heart out and it’s not even close.

About 700 visitors, 14 posts, that’s about 50 visitors a post. That’s compared to nearly 3,000 visitors, three posts, a thousand visitors a post. About $200 gave me 20x the reach.

Yay for me. Why am I writing this? To help you. On Facebook today there are groups and pages. Groups serve, more or less, as discussion boards. Pages are more like ad space. They’re promotional and you generally control the content on there. You can have a page and a group, and you can have a page act as an admin to a group. There’s one major difference between the two. As best I can tell, groups cannot advertise. Pages, on the other hand, have the power to boost posts. So if you’re looking to market, get yourself a page.

What kind of monster doesn’t even like his own page?

When you create a post on your page, you have the option to boost a post. Check the boost post option before you make your post to get to the “boost” controls.

Nobody liked that.

After you click post, you’ll get transported to the magic world of the boost page. That’s going to look like the image below, hopefully, and it’s going to give you options to put in your budget, and more importantly, edit your audience. Generally if you put in more money, they’ll estimate more views per day. If you put in more days, you’ll get fewer views per day, but the ad will run longer. There are some minimums, but you can go as low or as high as you want. Again, in December, I felt comfortable spending in the ballpark of $200 for week-long campaigns. What will you see in the edit audience tab?

You get to target, gender, age, location, and then add specific demographics.

The only thing you should know is your audience has to be broad enough to run the ad. If you’re way too specific, it blocks you. For example, I started clicking demographics for all these things and the potential reach was only about 5,000. I clicked “lawyer” and the potential reach jumped up by millions.

That’s all there is to it! There are a few other options, like whether you want your ad to run in Facebook, Messenger, or both, and whether you want to use Facebook Pixel. My personal preference? I run the ad only Facebook and do nothing with Facebook Pixel. I know a lot of us trust and believe in face-to-face conversations. We want to grow deep connections and be one with our audience. But again, we’re looking at 20x the reach with a small budget.

With that in mind, I’ll be launching and advertising a post on March 1 directed at digital reporters and transcribers. Here’s my thinking: We have this whole group of people who probably like sitting in court proceedings, the companies they work for are not telling them about steno, or maybe even lying to them about steno. It’s time to break that in half and get the good ones over to us. If you support that, or even if you’re just grateful for the information in this post, feel free to donate here. I’m very grateful to people that have donated in the past. Every dollar helps keep this place ad-free. We don’t want to go back to that time.

Alternatively, if you’re tired of my blog, check out Glen Warner’s or Matt Moss’s. There are so many out there, including businesses like Migliore & Associates or MGR. It can be really heartening to see the incredible amount of information and opinions we have out there. Highly suggest checking out any of them.