Implementers face off in recruitment competition for midlevel talent

By Gabriella Jóźwiak 26 May 2015

A jobs fair in Leyte, Philippines, complements the emergency employment program to promote local employment and sustainable livelihoods. Photo by: International Labor Organization / CC BY-NC-ND 

Meeting donor expectations to hire global development professionals with the right technical and geographical knowledge and experience has become increasingly competitive, according to human resources leaders at development implementer DAI.

As a result, the consultancy is steadily recruiting from outside its traditional workforce and looking toward the “global south” for candidates.

Currently, the greatest shortage of suitable applicants is among vacancies for skilled, midlevel managers, according to Laura Viehmyer, DAI’s senior vice president for human resources.

“When we’re looking to hire in at entry level, we find in both our U.K. and U.S. operations that we have a great deal of interest,” she said. “On the flip side you have very experienced international development professionals approaching the home stretch of their careers and retiring from the workforce — the shortage seems to be skilled managers and technical areas that are the middle level. There’s a bit of a gap.”

More than 2,500 employees currently work on 126 active DAI projects in 86 countries, which began operations in 1970. About 450 are based at its U.S. offices and 120 in the U.K., while the rest are expats or local staff working on the ground.

The U.S. government funds three quarters of DAI’s business, with the remainder financed by the U.K. Department for International Development, the European Commission and small corporate initiatives.

Projects funded by U.S. Agency for International Development, DfID and the commission usually require hires to have 10-15 years of field management experience, in addition to significant experience of the project’s technical focus, DAI recruitment manager Lucy Volz explained.

Meeting this demand is particularly difficult for programs on technical areas such as crime and violence prevention, youth livelihoods, youth workforce development, climate change, adaptation and mitigation or environmental compliance, Volz said.

“All of these technical areas have been around for a long time, but now we’re seeing stand- alone projects in these technical areas,” she explained. “Finding individuals who have significant experience managing programs or projects in these technical areas is a bit more challenging, and we’re having to look outside our traditional workforce that we’ve relied on for so many years.”

As well as technical specialty areas, Volz explained donors are opening up new locations for development investment. For example, the U.S. government has begun directing more funds toward programming in Latin America and the Caribbean, in particular Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

“There’s a lot of concern about illegal immigrants coming to the U.S. from these countries and so there is a renewed interest on programming in these countries to counteract crime and violence, drug trafficking and provide education opportunities for at-risk youth,” Volz said.

The company was able to find recruits to work on such new subjects and in new geographical areas, she said, but competition between contractors was “fairly fierce” because of the shortage of appropriate candidates.

“There are a handful of people with relevant experience both in the technical area and in the region with the number of years of experience the donor is requiring,” she said. “Our DAI Europe recruiters tell me it’s easier to get somebody in after the project has been running for a year or two — the donors at that point are a little bit more relaxed and willing to accept somebody with less experience.”

Conversely, Volz said the implementer never struggled to find staff in conflict areas, such as Sudan, Somalia or Afghanistan.

She added that donors’ language requirements were adding to recruitment pressures, as they emphasize fluency in the language of the country where the projects are implemented, as well as English.

As a result, DAI’s projects are increasingly being led by people from the global South with “invaluable” regional experience. Volz predicted this trend would characterize the next decade of global development work.

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About the author

Gabriella jozwiak profile
Gabriella Jóźwiak@GabriellaJ

Gabriella Jóźwiak is an award-winning journalist based in London. Her work on issues and policies affecting children and young people in developing countries and the U.K. has been published in national newspapers and magazines. Having worked in-house for domestic and international development charities, Jóźwiak has a keen interest in organizational development, and has worked as a journalist in several countries across West Africa and South America.


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