5 things to know about the next generation development professional

By Kate Warren 23 June 2015

International development is an ever-evolving field. Learn what it takes for the next generation of professionals to be successful. Image by: Sophia Greenbaum / PSI

New sources of funding, new actors and new technologies are quickly changing the way we do development. This led us to wonder: What will the next generation of development professionals look like and what will they need to be successful?

Devex recently conducted a survey of development professionals to see what tools, skills and approaches they think the next generation of development professionals will need to thrive, in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development and Population Services International.

One finding was clear: Eighty-four percent of respondents believe that in 10 years, the technology, skills and approaches used by development professionals will be significantly different than they are today. The results paint the picture of a well-rounded, flexible professional who takes a holistic view of development work. Just as likely to be a venture capitalist or high-tech whiz as your traditional aid worker, the future development professional will need to be agile, collaborative and constantly learning new skills.

Here are five key findings from the survey and what it means for your career development.

1. Integrators are king.

Forty-seven percent of survey respondents believe integrators will be the most in-demand development professionals over specialists, generalists and disruptors.

Move over generalists, make way for integrators
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High-tech firms, social impact investors, corporations and venture capitalists are predicted to see the most growth in impact on development work, so professionals may increasingly find themselves working alongside, or even within, these nontraditional institutions. Respondents also predict a sharp departure from the current top-down approach, with individual beneficiaries and their communities having the most say in how aid is invested.

Professionals who foster collaboration and work across these various sectors and institutions will be critical for effective development. Whether you see yourself as a specialist, generalist or even disruptor, all development professionals will benefit from thinking like — and developing the skills of — an integrator.

2. Jack of all (funding) trades

A whopping 90 percent of respondents believe in 10 years it will be more important for professionals to have a basic understanding of working with a wide range of funders than a deep specialization working with one.

This would be an obvious shift from the reality today where development organizations and their positions tend to require deep experience working with a specific funder like USAID, the U.K. Department for International Development or the EU. While in the short-term professionals may find it more fruitful to continue to specialize with one funder, gaining experience seeking funds or managing projects with a more diverse set of donors is likely to be beneficial to your longer term career prospects.

3. Invest in education and language skills

Recruiters' most wanted: French-speaking aid professionals
Global development recruiters named French as the most in-demand language, according to Devex's recent career trends survey. But fewer students across the United States are learning the language.

Seventy-nine percent of respondents believe you will need a graduate level degree to be successful in international development in 10 years. And a graduate degree may not be enough. While English fluency is predicted to increase in importance, 72 percent believe professionals will need to be fluent in at least two languages to be successful.

If you are looking to learn a new language, consider Chinese, Arabic or French. Sixty-six percent of respondents predict Chinese language skills will be more important in 10 years, while 65 percent and 49 percent respectively said Arabic and French would be more important.

4. Soft skills still critical

Seventy-eight percent of respondents believe people skills are as or more important than technical skills for project leaders. When asked to rank the top soft skills the next generation of development professionals will need, professionals between the ages of 25 and 44 ranked flexibility and adaptability as the top skills, while respondents over the age of 44 identified the ability to work in teams. Across all respondents, implementation and execution ability was the second highest ranking soft skill with resourcefulness and empathy also ranking in the top five.

The phantom team leader
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However, professionals working for for-profit implementing organizations favor technical skills over people skills in development leaders. So aspiring development leaders would be best suited to pursue both skills in tandem.

5. Constant upskill

The number one piece of advice respondents gave to the next generation of development professionals is to invest in skills development and continuously upskill.

The top five technologies and approaches respondents predicted will be important for future development professionals to be highly proficient in are sustainability, capacity building, community based approaches, data driven and evidence-based programming and innovation. Professionals who work in health also ranked human-centered design as a top approach and those between the ages of 25 and 44 were more likely to rank market-based approaches as critical.

To see more results of the next generation development professionals, download this report from PSI and read Who will you be working beside in 10 years? 

What do you think the next generation development professional will need to be successful? Please leave your comments below or tweet us with #FutureDevPro.

Whether you’re a seasoned expert or budding development professional — check out more news, analysis and advice online to guide your career and professional development, and subscribe to Doing Good to receive top international development career and recruitment news every week.

About the author

Warren kate 1
Kate Warren@DevexCareers

Kate Warren is the senior director and editor of careers and recruiting content at Devex. With more than a decade of international development recruitment experience working with international NGOs, consulting firms and donor agencies, she has a finger on the pulse of hiring trends across the industry and insider knowledge on what it takes to break in.

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