Starting a career in Humanitarian Logistics
I’m in the last year of a degree in Logistics and am looking for a job in the humanitarian field. I really want to use my degree to help improve things in developing countries. I did a placement with DHL in Colnbrook (near Heathrow Airport) during my course. Can you advise me where to start, please?
Humanitarian Logistics (HL) is a fascinating and very satisfying field of work. It is, though, somewhat different from commercial logistics. Much of the work will be in remote areas and/or in emergency situations so potential employers will be looking for people who can “hit the ground running” with technical competence/skills, experience and motivation.
In general, you will need:
• The technical/academic knowledge and training: a relevant degree – for some employers a Masters may be preferred.
• Specialist training (short) courses in Personal Security, Emergency Management, Humanitarian Practice (e.g. RedR’s courses). Some employers will provide these courses but you will be a more attractive applicant if you have already done some, and it shows your commitment. A First Aid qualification is also desirable.
• You may want to consider studying for the Certificate in Humanitarian Logistics (CHL); this is available by distance learning and typically takes 1½-2 years part time. Many people combine this with full-time work, but it would not be practical if you are working long hours on a emergency operation.
• Some relevant experience, e.g. your DHL placement.
• The right personal attributes: flexibility, pragmatism, patience, willingness to do anything yourself, robust good health and a good sense of humour
Getting the first job is the hardest, so you should:
• Work up your portfolio of experience: overseas travel, voluntary work (at home or abroad), multicultural activities, relevant project work or thesis topic.
• Make sure your CV fully reflects your competencies, attributes and skills: hobbies and/or even the most menial of holiday jobs can be used to demonstrate an ability or added experience.
• Learn a (UN) language, especially French (for Africa) and Arabic, and polish your Excel skills. Improve any other languages you may have.
• Expect to start in a less attractive location with greater hardship, maybe living in a shared house (or even a tent).
• If your home country is in the south, start work in your own country (e.g. with an NGO) before expecting to travel.
• Consider internships at home or abroad – can be combined with post graduate research or give you time to study for the CHL
• Look for multipurpose jobs in small NGOs where logistics is combined with other tasks such as management of the compound/staff house.
• If you yearn to work for a United Nations agency, apply to be a UN Volunteer (UNV) or a JPO (Junior Professional Officer, a scheme for the under-30s that is only supported by some countries’ governments); you can also apply directly to UN agencies (there are annual exams in some countries).
• Become an EU volunteer (EU nationals only).
Be aware that because of the cyclical nature of funding for relief operations, many jobs are only short term contracts of up to a year.
It is very important to network:
• Join the Humanitarian Logistics Association www.humanitarianlogistics.org
• Join the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in UK or abroad www.ciltuk.org.uk
• Sign up to Linked In, the humanitarian logistician’s social network ... (more)
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