Key Professions in the Humanitarian Development & Relief Sector

From time to time in coaching conversations, clients with portable professional and technical skills enquire about the opportunities to use their skills in the humanitarian development sector. Are there particular competences that are particularly valued in the sector? How is the contribution of “their” profession in the sector changing? What are the forces or drivers creating change in the humanitarian sector for the professional group they are a part of?

These are all great questions and, truth be told, answers are not easy to find. Seldom is it true that one answer applies equally and consistently across all organisations within the sector. However, through an examination of humanitarian job boards, networks, rosters and information sites, Bioforce’s “The State of Humanitarian Professions” research, published on 11 December 2020, provided some valuable intelligence that is worth delving into. Bioforce identified 24 professions of key importance in the humanitarian sector. This group was then sub-divided into A) professions that provide services relevant to a wide range of humanitarian interventions, enabling projects to be delivered effectively, and, B) professions that provide services related to a specific theme or type of intervention.

For each profession the Bioforce report provides some research-based perspectives worth considering on each of the following questions:

  1. What are the key characteristics of this profession area? The areas of the work involved in this profession area; job functions; and characteristics of the profession area and the workforce.
  2. Which competencies in this profession area are specific to humanitarian work? Competencies of workers in the profession area that distinguish it from equivalent non-humanitarian profession areas.
  3. What infrastructure exists to support professionalisation in this area? The extent to which the profession has established infrastructure and agreements related to professionalisation. These could include agreed standards of operation and competencies for workers, training and certifications, recognised associations or professional bodies who administer the infrastructure.
  4. What is changing in this profession area? Significant changes in the nature of the work and an estimation of the drivers behind those changes.

Consult the report here:

The professions or occupational groups surveyed are as follows:

Group A:

  • Advocacy
  • Cash and Vouchers
  • Communications
  • Donor Relations & Grant Management
  • Finance Management
  • Human Resource Management
  • Information & Communication Technology
  • Information Management
  • Interagency Coordination
  • Logistics
  • Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability & Learning
  • Project Management
  • Safety & Security

Group B:

  • Camp Coordination & Camp Management
  • Education
  • Food Security & Livelihoods
  • Health
  • Legal Aid
  • Mine Action
  • Nutrition
  • Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding
  • Protection, Diversity & Inclusion
  • Shelter and Non-Food Items
  • WASH


Author: Vitas Consult