International Development: Industry trends for Job Seekers
The field of international development is constantly changing in response to internal and external forces. Thus, planning a career in the field requires continuous learning and close attention to the changing trends. Some of these trends currently shaping future career opportunities include:
As we examined earlier, the funds for international development have been growing rapidly in recent years. The average growth since 1985 in ODA has been 6.8 percent, and this does not include foundation and private money. Due to increased funding, there has been a tremendous growth in the number and kinds of organizations implementing development projects. Traditionally, large NGOs and intergovernmental organizations provided most of the jobs in development, but today there are opportunities with local NGOs, small development organizations, for-profit companies, multinational corporations, volunteer organizations and more. This can make career planning and job hunting a more time-intensive activity since it takes time to sort through all of the opportunities, but in the end it also means more available jobs.
Greater local capacity
One effect of the economic growth experienced by many developing regions in the last 20 years has been an increase in the capacity of the local labor force. In many places it is now possible to find local applicants for development positions with international education and experience, in addition to an obvious advantage in local knowledge and languages. Also, locally hired employees are usually less costly because salary and benefits are based on local market conditions. Utilizing these skilled professionals in the development of their home country is an excellent trend in the industry, and one with significant implications for development jobs. One consequence is that there will likely be increasingly fewer project-based positions for international hires. For example, a three- to five-year project may have traditionally included three or more international staff, but, with a more qualified local candidate, it may reduce the international positions to a single project manager. Beyond jobs, this trend also has implications for the skills that are needed by development professionals. Communications, language skills, human resource management and strong functional concentration will all become even more important for international professionals to be productive in this new environment.
Widespread lack of accountability is commonly seen as one of the great failings of international development. Because of this, large donors, who fund much of the work carried out by implementing organizations, are increasingly focused on cost-efficiency and accountability in the projects they fund. So a greater focus will be placed on monitoring and evaluation with more jobs for specialists in these areas, and a greater expectation of understanding these systems for all development workers. The trend also puts more responsibility on individual professionals to manage their careers with a focus on results and stewardship of donor funds.
Professionalizing of the industry
Many of the elements that exist in traditional industries to support professional development, share knowledge and drive new innovations have no counterpart in the development industry. This is partly due to the incredibly diverse nature of the field—for example, it is not immediately clear how a single industry organization can be a useful resource to practitioners of environmental development, HIV/AIDS awareness and rural agriculture. However, many organizations are starting to challenge this assumption and are focusing on the areas of similarity within the industry. Some areas where these efforts are most active include educational programs, jobs websites, research centers and industry publications. All of these resources are covered in more detail in this guidebook. This trend is excellent from a career perspective because the number of resources for learning about the industry, managing a career, and finding jobs has never been greater.
Coordination among donors and governments
With the rapid increases in donor funding for international development and the subsequent growth in the number of organizations implementing development projects, it is more important than ever to coordinate assistance. Historically this was done among donors and project implementers, but this role is increasingly shared or shifted to the governments of developing countries. These governments work together with large organizations, such as intergovernmental organizations, to develop long-term strategic plans focusing on key priorities. This planning helps focus development assistance around key needs and ensures that projects do not duplicate efforts. There is still a lot of effort needed in this area, but it is becoming more common to see good examples of coordination rather than duplicated efforts.