“Development professionals of the future” via YouTube

Global development is a rapidly evolving industry and, as a result, new profiles and skill sets are needed.

The recent Devex Next Generation Professional report confirmed that the sector is undergoing a dramatic transformation. The vast majority of professionals surveyed by Devex — some 86 percent — expect major changes in the skills and career paths for working in global development in the future, requiring knowledge of new technologies, skills, and approaches in order to succeed.

Next Generation of Development Professionals

To uncover broader trends and opinions around the future of global development professionals, Devex, in partnership with USAID and DAI, has produced a report to determine the perceptions, trends, opportunities, visions, and solutions around the future of the industry. Offering practical insights for recruiters and talent alike with this new report, read Next Generation of Development Professionals here.

This shift is impacting the sector’s human capital and talent landscape said Kate Warren, executive vice president at Devex, during an exclusive webinar looking at the future of development professionals.

Experts from the United States Agency for International Development and DAI joined Warren for this webinar to discuss how these changes are playing out in their own organizations and what skills and traits they value most in a candidate. Here are three key takeaways from the event.

1. Soft skills are key

While technology may be spearheading transformation in the sector and there is a lot of focus on these skills, soft skills will remain crucial.

“Whenever we survey hiring managers and recruiters on what’s more important — technical skills or soft skills — people and soft skills are typically the ‘make or break’ factor for somebody's success within an organization and within the development sector,” said Warren.

For a development professional to excel and thrive in the future, survey respondents believed interpersonal and relational skills were the most important soft skills. These were followed closely by adaptability and flexibility, while teamwork, cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity, and verbal and written communication were also considered very valuable skills.

Soft skills and this question of “fit” are important now more than ever said Beth Singh, vice president of human resources at DAI.

“By fit, I mean adaptability, social and learning agility, intellectual versatility, and the ability to collaborate,” she said, adding that how, beyond a good work ethic and cognitive skills a candidate will complement the broader institutional culture is another common consideration.

Singh emphasized the importance of candidates demonstrating their adaptability — or agility — to accommodate the future needs of the workforce. In addition to the soft skills highlighted in the report, she also said a candidate cannot go wrong in proving how they can thrive amid ambiguity and how they can unpack and resolve problems. These additional skills are not just valuable for business said Singh, but also for candidates to be able to differentiate themselves from other job seekers.

Alexis Bonnell, division chief of applied innovation and acceleration with USAID’s U.S. Global Development Lab, agreed that soft skills, as well as flexibility, are critical in order for global development professionals to excel. For Bonnell, it’s important to maintain “an appetite and openness” to consider various skill sets when setting up a project, and to think about how to truly harness technology or collect data that will result in better customer feedback.

2. There’s a demand for integrators

The sector’s shift toward collaborative partnerships, particularly with nontraditional development players, is driving the demand for so-called integrators — professionals that possess multiple specialties and excel in fostering collaborations between various stakeholders. There is an increased need for those “who can work across silos, bridge those gaps, and combine tech skills and soft skills,” said Warren, adding that this is “probably why 74 percent [of survey respondents] predicted integrators would be the most in-demand professionals over generalists and specialists.”

Global development has typically been defined by sectors or regions, but Bonnell explained the growth of integrators recognizes the critical importance of both technical expertise and generalists who understand program implementation. An integrator, she said, is someone who can look at cross-sectoral initiatives and has an ability to take cross-cutting issues and “really weave them together for a different experience.”

Singh agreed that the integrator is a “way of working” and a profile that is increasingly sought after in hiring for positions at DAI. Roles that are partnerships-focused or involve corporate development, business development, or communications are a good fit for integrators, she said.

3. There is a growing appetite for an understanding of technology

Bonnell believes that the sector’s professionals are increasingly responsive to the fact that the use and understanding of new technology is an important part of the development professional’s skill set.

“Our industry really has an appetite to understand what these things are and to understand their relevance,” she said.

In many cases, technology is already being used to tackle development challenges — artificial intelligence, for example, is being tested in the digital health sphere, as well as helping to predict crop yields, spot illegal fishing catches, and develop teaching tools for children with autism. Bonnell thinks that the industry has also developed a healthier appetite for big data and data-driven evidence. As a result, she expects to see a demand for data analysts who can turn that information into business intelligence.

However, all these new technologies are only valuable if they can be successfully integrated into development projects and programs. The sector will therefore also need people who can successfully translate an understanding of these technologies to development practitioners on the ground who may lack tech expertise.

“Even if you aren’t a data scientist or expert yourself, being able to understand the power of data and integrating that within your programming will be a really valuable skill to bring to the table,” said Bonnell.

What skills do you think future global development professionals will need? Let us know by posting your thoughts on Twitter and Facebook using #NextGenPro or tagging @Devex. Visit our Next Generation Professionals site to read the report and for further coverage of this topic.

About the author

  • Emma Smith

    Emma Smith is a Reporter at Devex. She covers all things related to careers and hiring in the global development community as well as mental health within the sector — from tips on supporting humanitarian staff to designing mental health programs for refugees. Emma has reported from key development hubs in Europe and co-produced Devex’s DevProWomen2030 podcast series. She holds a degree in journalism from Glasgow Caledonian University and a master's in media and international conflict. In addition to writing for regional news publications, she has worked with organizations focused on child and women’s rights.