International aid/development workers are employed by charities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), international aid agencies and volunteer groups.
The primary objective for international aid/development workers is to provide aid and assistance to people in locations around the globe, covering all kinds of issues from healthcare, sanitation, housing, education and construction to agriculture, industrial development, human rights, sustainability and relief from natural disasters.
This is a particularly broad area of work and professionals in this area can perform a range of different functions, including hands-on relief work, fundraising, project planning and project management.
Furthermore, you could be responsible for administrative support, budget control, liaising with local agencies and authorities, training volunteers and preparing recommendations, evaluation reports and other related paperwork.
Some international development workers work on the strategy and policy side of things, conducting research, negotiating with other NGOs and lobbying the government to garner support and sponsorship.
Salary & benefits
Generally, international aid/development workers are divided into two categories:
1) People working in UK-based administrative and back-office support roles
2) People working in overseas project-specific roles with operational and management responsibilities.
Annual salaries for UK-based employees in the early stages of their careers range between £17,000 and £25,000, while senior employees based in the UK can earn around £25,000 to £45,000 a year.
Overseas workers tend to be skilled and experienced personnel with relevant specialist qualifications. Salaries for these professionals range between £17,000 and £50,000 per annum. These guys might also receive supplementary housing, medical and travel allowances.
Working hours are typically in excess of 40 hours per week and your schedule is likely to be fairly unpredictable. Overseas aid/development work is mainly field-based, while jobs in the UK tend to be office-based.
The majority of NGOs employ workers on fixed-term contracts, ranging between six months and three years.
Understandably, travel is a frequent occurrence and the flexibility to relocate several times throughout your career is essential.
Although obtaining a relevant academic qualification is important to a certain extent, gaining volunteering experience is much more vital.
It’s pretty much essential that you have a degree if you want to enter this line of work. However, the degree discipline you choose should really depend on the activity you want to undertake as an international aid/development worker.
For example, if your field of interest is healthcare, then a degree in nursing or medicine would be most relevant. Other acceptable and relevant subjects include: sociology, economics, human rights, international development, international studies, modern languages and marketing.
Training & progression
Training and development is primarily provided whilst on the job or is driven by individual endeavour, since most NGOs and volunteer organisations in this field do not provide extensive training programmes.
However, certain organisations, such as Oxfam and the United Nations, do conduct structured internship and graduate development programmes.
Building a long-term and successful career as an international aid and development worker is determined by the extent of your interests and ambitions, particularly in the third sector.
Aid/development workers employed in public sector organisations, such as the Department for International Development (DFID), follow a predefined career path. However, many organisations do not offer such structured routes for career progression.
A key factor in career development is the ability and willingness to move across locations and organisations in the first ten or more years, gaining a diverse range of experience and skills.
While the first career phase involves hands-on project management or operational responsibilities, the second phase (after ten to 15 years) focuses more on policy and strategy development, budget control and general leadership responsibilities.