In an increasingly globalized world, language barriers can often pose significant challenges, particularly in the public sector where clear communication is essential. Recognizing this, New Zealand's Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE) has embarked on an ambitious journey to enhance the quality, accessibility, consistency, and coordination of language assistance services across the public sector.
The Language Assistance Services (LAS) Programme, a cross-government initiative, was established in 2017 with the primary goal of improving language assistance services for individuals with limited or no English language proficiency. The program particularly targets migrants and former refugees, ensuring they can effectively access public services and information.
Historically, New Zealand relied on a single provider for telephone and video interpreting services. However, to ensure a diverse range of interpreters and languages are available to meet the needs of people throughout the country, MBIE has decided to transition from a single provider to a panel of 3-5 providers. This strategic move is designed to enhance business continuity for the New Zealand government and ensure that language assistance services can cater to a broader spectrum of linguistic needs.
The LAS Programme was established in response to the findings of two comprehensive reviews conducted by MBIE and the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) in 2015 and 2016. These reviews identified several barriers and gaps that hindered equitable access to public services and information for individuals with limited English language proficiency. These included inconsistent use of qualified practitioners, gaps in language assistance services availability outside business hours, and funding issues related to government-contracted services.
The LAS Programme envisions providing equitable access to public services and information for people with limited or no English language proficiency in New Zealand, such as former refugees and migrants. To realize this vision, the program is establishing a comprehensive framework to deliver high-quality, consistent, and coordinated language assistance services across the government.
This new framework is underpinned by a cross-government policy and detailed service guidelines, new service delivery models, and new professional standards and certification requirements for interpreters and translators operating in the public sector. The implementation of this framework is planned in four phases spanning from 2017 to 2024.
The Language Assistance Services Programme is a testament to New Zealand's commitment to inclusivity and effective communication. By improving language assistance services, the country is not only breaking down language barriers but also fostering a more welcoming environment for migrants and refugees. This initiative is a significant step towards ensuring that everyone, regardless of their language proficiency, has equitable access to public services and information.