The local talent war is on in Asia-Pacific

Highlights from the 2014 Devex Career Forum in Manila

The battle for talent is on among recruiters seeking to attract the best and the brightest development professionals in Asia-Pacific.

At Devex’s first Career Forum in Manila on Wednesday, recruiters from some of the region’s leading relief and development organizations stressed they are looking not only for sector-specific but also multidisciplinary and management skills that helps local groups to build capacity and gain an edge as they compete for international funding.

Long gone are the days of expats running foreign aid projects in countries like the Philippines, where RTI International, for instance, the forum’s executive partner, now employs around 160 local staff members and just one expat, according to David Spiro, regional office director for Asia.

While the transition to local staff may be difficult for some, Spiro argued: “It’s the whole point of international assistance, isn’t it?”

The speakers from the opening plenary session, “Keep current: Finding your place in the next wave of global development.”

“That’s why we’re in development,” agreed Kelly Tobin, recruitment manager for Engility, who advised job-seeking expats to adapt to the new reality of the job market by applying for positions where their expertise is still truly needed.

That doesn’t mean that top international talent will completely vanish from development hot spots where local capacity is growing. Roles will change, though, and field deployments may be more shorter than they used to be.

Bettina Hassel, HR specialist at UNICEF, noted how the U.N. agency tries, whenever possible, to recruit local talent, but has found it quite challenging to find candidates for certain vacancies, including senior posts in the Philippines dealing with the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan through the U.N. cluster system.

One thing that panelists at the event’s opening plenary agreed on: They are looking for job candidates with “soft skills” — qualities like leadership, capacity for smooth interpersonal relationships and the ability to work in a team — on top of “hard skills” like a master’s degree, languages or experience in particular sectors or countries.

Find out more in the below hangout:

Development recruiters want more “soft skills.”

See our Devex Career Forum topic page, check out our Storify page and tweet #DevexForum!

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About the author

  • Carlos Santamaria

    Carlos is a former associate editor for breaking news in Devex's Manila-based news team. He joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE ,and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York, and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.