Aid worker/humanitarian worker: job description

Last updated: 19 Jul 2023, 09:00

Aid workers (also known as humanitarian workers and development workers) manage projects in areas affected by war, natural disasters and other complex societal problems.

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Aid worker/humanitarian worker : Salaries | Employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Aid workers support communities that have been impacted by human or natural disasters. The role can involve responding to emergency situations and supporting longer-term development projects. Consultation is an essential part of the role: work must be done in partnership with the individuals and communities affected.

Typical duties include:

  • assessing emergency situations and the needs of people affected.
  • distributing emergency supplies and managing this work.
  • building trusting working relationships with local staff and community members.
  • monitoring the effectiveness of projects and activities.
  • coordinating and supporting the work of volunteers and staff.
  • running workshops with communities and individuals to ascertain local needs.
  • in partnership with local organisations and individuals, developing interventions – such as education and healthcare projects – to address needs.
  • managing projects and budgets.
  • producing response reports, recommendations and proposals for projects.
  • liaising with international agencies and government officials.
  • recruiting and 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.

You’re likely to be away from home for long periods and to experience life-changing situations. You’ll be provided with accommodation while you’re overseas and support to handle the situations you encounter.

Graduate salaries

It’s not common for graduates to go directly into aid work because of the risks involved and the need for specialist experience. Once you’ve built this, you could earn around £29,000, according to the UK Government. On top of this, your travel and accommodation will be paid for, along with other expenses involved in going overseas such as visas.

Typical employers of aid workers

  • International NGOs (non-governmental organisations).
  • Multilateral organisations (organisations formed by groups of nations).
  • Government departments responsible for international development.
  • Private trusts and foundations.
  • Voluntary and not-for-profit organisations.

Jobs are advertised on aid organisations' websites and via specialist jobs boards.

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.

Qualifications and training required

It's common to build experience through voluntary work and by working for UK-based offices of international organisations. A number of voluntary organisations run graduate schemes and many offer entry-level roles from which you can work your way up. Competition for these is likely to be fierce and work experience will be essential. You could build this via an internship – for example, the British Red Cross offers work experience opportunities – or voluntary work with organisations needing your skills.

You can find out about volunteering your way to a graduate job in this article .

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 healthcare, emergency planning or engineering. If you have these or similar skills, look for specialist organisations, such as Engineers Without Borders, for contacts and advice.

Key skills and qualities of aid workers

  • Excellent communication skills in both English and local languages.
  • Good networking skills.
  • The ability to be sensitive to local cultures and situations.
  • Analytical skills .
  • The ability to plan well.
  • Project management skills, including the ability to keep accurate records and report on these.
  • Teamworking skills.
  • Problem-solving skills .
  • The ability to adapt to changing situations.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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