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Aid workers (also known as humanitarian workers) manage projects in areas suffering from war, natural disasters and other complex problems.

What do aid workers do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Aid workers typically operate in front-line conditions, distributing humanitarian aid to people who have been hit by human or natural disasters. Responsibilities vary widely depending on the situation, but can include:

  • assessing emergency situations and working closely with local staff
  • coordinating and supporting the work of volunteers and staff
  • managing budgets
  • managing emergency activities and monitoring their effectiveness
  • producing response reports, recommendations and proposals for emergency intervention
  • liaising with United Nations agencies, government officials and local organisations
  • recruiting/managing local staff
  • organising induction, support and training for volunteers/other aid workers
  • ensuring staff and volunteers follow safety and security procedures
  • making sure staff and volunteers are familiar with the culture, laws and practices of their location
  • liaising with donors, local authorities and humanitarian community members
  • producing funding proposals.

Typical employers of aid workers

  • Charities
  • International NGOs (non-governmental organisations)
  • Private trusts or foundations
  • Voluntary and not-for-profit organisations

Jobs are advertised on aid organisations' websites. There may be opportunities for short-term placements, particularly if you have a specialist background such as experience in nursing or logistics. Some organisations also employ standby staff, who can be called up at short notice and sent on assignment. These opportunities will be advertised online.

Qualifications and training required

Most aid workers start out as volunteers. Paid vacancies tend to call for experience, which isn't often available at entry level, so it's common to build experience through voluntary work. You could also aim for an internship - for example, the British Red Cross offers voluntary internships at its London office.

Volunteer your way to a graduate job

Once you've gained experience, specialist skills will give you an advantage. Many organisations want to employ local staff and will focus recruitment towards them. However, while local hires bring expertise of their community and culture, they may lack technical competencies such as experience in health, emergency planning or engineering. If you have these or similar skills, look for specialist organisations such as Engineers without Borders for contacts and advice.

To find out how you can get into this career via a school leaver route see the charity section of TARGETcareers, our website aimed at school leavers.

Key skills and qualities of aid workers

Recruiters look for experience, resilience and commitment from their aid staff. Other essential qualities and skills include:

  • great communication skills in both English and local languages
  • good networking skills
  • analytical skills
  • the ability to plan well
  • computer literacy
  • tact, discretion and diplomacy
  • teamworking skills
  • problem-solving skills.

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