Keeping up with global development: Skills in demand

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The global development sector’s talent demands continue to evolve, in line with technological advances and new players' engagement.

Familiarity with digital tools and different software is increasingly important across almost all areas of development to be able to deliver effective solutions and stay relevant in a highly competitive job market. Increasing engagement with the private sector is also requiring the sector’s professionals to develop the knowledge and skills to foster these collaborations.

These are some of the top skills in demand in global development right now.

Mobile phone technology skills

Digitalization is undoubtedly having an effect across all industries, including private sector development, said Arsalan Ali Feehan, a private sector development specialist.

Even though you might not be using it on a daily basis, professionals do increasingly need to know how to work with technology and have a sense of how it is applied, he said. In private sector development, for example, you might be working with clients who need to better leverage technology or be collaborating with industries that use certain applications, he explained.

In the past few years, one of the most significant changes has been the large-scale use of mobile phone technology, Faheem said. In particular, the use of mobile applications for data collection and analysis has been evolving rapidly, so developing some sound skills in the application of those technologies can make you a more effective professional, he added. The use of mobile applications in development was a subject of particular interest to Faheem and he has focused on developing skills in this area.

“Most of this you can learn yourself by reading up on projects and how solutions have been developed, becoming versed with applications and solutions, and then also working with professionals who are experts in that field,” Faheem explained.

Programming skills

Dr. Elvira Beracochea, founder and CEO of Realizing Global Health, believes that the intersection of health and informatics will be the “next frontier in development.”

Beracochea, who has more than 20 years experience in the sector, anticipates that there will be a greater demand in the future for professionals with experience in digital health. As the sector develops tools to scale up its work, it will require more information systems, digital tools, points of service, and tablet applications she explained. She predicts that there will be more people that are programmers working as part of health teams and so, while health professionals won’t need to know how to code, they will need to have some understanding of how it works and what is required.

“You should be able to communicate with programmers and IT professionals,” Beracochea explained. “It doesn’t mean that you need to know how to code, but you need to able to ask the right questions.”

It’s important to keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the sector and understand that there will always be new ideas and innovations she added.

Data analysis program skills

The emergence of new software programs, some of which are free, are helping the sector’s monitoring and evaluation professionals work more effectively.

Embry Howell, a health policy evaluation specialist, feels that there is a greater focus now on M&E work and a growing demand for these professionals to have a “sophisticated toolkit.”

Mobile phone technology has led to new modes of data collection and some M&E roles now require candidates to be familiar with certain programming language or software programs, she explained. This can be a challenge for professionals such as Howell who have been out of school for a while and are not so comfortable in the use of these types of software. However, the necessary skills can be developed through online training programs and peer-to-peer learning, she said.

Howell has learned to use both the STATA and SPSS programs. It is useful to know both a quantitative and qualitative software, she explained, and also important to be aware of new programs. Having recently read about the rising importance of analyzing social media data and, considering how this could be applied for public health, Howell thinks this may be “a wave of the future” and skills in this type of data analysis will be useful.

While not an M&E professional, Faheem has been involved in designing monitoring and evaluation measurement systems. He has picked up some skills in the use of statistical analysis software and tools such as Power BI, and said this has proven useful for aggregating and visualizing data.

Tools for data management, visualization, and analysis are “highly important” in the development sector nowadays, he said, as are the skills to use these effectively.

Private sector skills

Global development has been deeply affected by the engagement of the private sector, and health is no exception, said Camlus Odhus, a health officer who specializes in maternal, newborn, and child health. While health solutions used to be delivered through public organizations and governments, public-private partnerships play an increasingly important role here.

Odhus believes that public health professionals must gain a better understanding of how the private sector works.

“One key skill is to learn how we can leverage their expertise and their specialties to deliver health in an equitable manner,” he explained.

As governments struggle to deliver health care to a growing global population, the private sector could help respond to challenges around access and distribution, he explained — but global development professionals need to know how to leverage these opportunities.

For more coverage on professional development, visit the Skills for Tomorrow site here.

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About the author

  • Emma smith

    Emma Smith

    Emma Smith is a reporting and communications associate at Devex, based in Barcelona. She focuses on bringing the latest career and hiring trends, tips, and insights to our global development community. Emma has a background in journalism and, in addition to writing for news publications, has worked with organizations focusing on child rights and women’s rights in sustainable development.