What does the global development job market look like for 2020?

The “Devex Talent Outlook 2020” report examines the latest hiring trends across the global development market.

BARCELONA — The demand for talent in the global development sector is being transformed by new technologies — from drones to artificial intelligence — and new actors, including impact investors and the private sector. At the same time, the Sustainable Development Goals have broadened the scope of development, and implementing organizations are under immense pressure to demonstrate results. This means increasing complexity in an already competitive talent market.

Devex Talent Outlook 2020

Powered by Philanthropy U, the “Devex Talent Outlook 2020” report is packed with valuable insights from the development community that both employers and professionals need to know.

To learn more about what this means for organizations trying to find top talent and for job seekers, Devex asked employers and development professionals for their thoughts. We conducted two online surveys with over 1,500 responses combined. From the data, we’ve examined the latest trends across the market, the skills necessary to stay competitive in the future, and the best practices to find jobs and candidates. Here are the top five trends from “Devex Talent Outlook 2020: Skills Gaps & Opportunities” that we think you should know about:

1. Most new development hires will continue to be located in Africa and consist of project managers

The African continent is the largest recipient of official development assistance. Nearly one-third of global aid spending — around $32 billion each year — goes to Africa. This means that, as has been the case in recent years, 46% of all new development jobs will be Africa-based. While the expanding capacity and capabilities of local development professionals in Africa could be a contributing factor, Michael Dahl, chief of talent management at the United Nations Population Fund, said the growing number of young people in Africa is part of the reason.

“Africa is a growing market of very qualified young people who want to make a difference,” Dahl said. “Trends show that Africa will have the majority of young people in the near future, and they are becoming more and more educated.”

Many respondents also predicted an almost twofold increase in hiring in Europe and the Middle East as well as an increase in the hiring of project managers. In line with the growing demand for development organizations to demonstrate accountability and development results, 46% of employers said hiring of project managers will increase, up from 27% in 2018.

2. Employers say there is a skills shortage among job applicants

Over two-thirds of development employers said that finding candidates with the right skills and qualifications is the biggest hiring challenge they face. And over 83% of survey respondents said that the skills required to thrive in a development career are constantly evolving.

Soft and technical skills are both in high demand, with 50% of employers saying that technical skills — including data-driven, evidence-based programming and delivery, as well as impact measurement and evaluation — are in short supply. The other 50% said that a lack of soft skills — leadership, planning, strategy and coaching, and empathy and cross-cultural sensitivity — is the biggest challenge. Political, environmental, and health emergencies, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, mean professionals need to be agile to quickly adapt to rapidly evolving circumstances.

As a result, employers said they are increasingly looking at candidates with nontraditional backgrounds, including professionals from tech companies and other parts of the private sector. Some 91% of recruiters and employers predicted that in the future, there will be a similar or greater level of interest in candidates with such backgrounds.

“International development clients are keen on innovative solutions for implementation and monitoring and evaluation,” said Erin Cross, director of recruitment at Social Impact, an organization working to enhance the social and economic well-being of people around the world. “Bringing in candidates from other sectors with strong base skills and a fresh perspective can offer that.”

3. For job seekers, the biggest challenge is the lack of a network or connection

Finding the right job is challenging for anyone, but development professionals said that the biggest hurdle is not having a network or connections that could help them. The proportion of respondents who said they found their first development job through a friend or family member stood at 15%.

However, the survey also revealed that applying directly to an employer is increasingly important. While only 35% of development professionals said that they found their first development job by applying directly to an employer in 2018, 47% said that their direct application was successful in 2020, highlighting that it may not always be about having a network.

Other challenges include translating experience from one sector to another within global development, a dearth of funding and jobs in certain areas of expertise, and a lack of language expertise and relevant skills.

4. Development professionals need to be lifelong learners

One way of tackling the challenges that both job applicants and employers are facing is to have individuals constantly upskill and learn. In fact, 83% of development professionals said regular skills training is important. And 87% of employers said that demonstrating engagement in regular skills training and an ability to follow the latest innovations and trends plays a role in hiring decisions. This shows that an applicant is motivated, driven, and interested in learning and personal growth.

“If it's self-driven, the fact that somebody is doing something for their own self, their career, for their own professional growth and professional trajectory, says a lot about that person, a lot about the interest that person has in doing a good job, in growing professionally, in contributing, adding value, and making a difference,” said Marta Fernandez de Mazarambroz, recruitment officer at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

According to respondents, the most popular way of nurturing their personal growth is by attending events or conferences, followed by online training courses.

Over 62% of development professionals said that their current employers invest in staff development and training. This is something that 86% said they consider when choosing where they would like to work.

To find out more about hiring and job-seeking trends for the year ahead, read the full “Devex Talent Outlook 2020” report here.

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