WhyDev guest post: The state of HR in development work 2013

Last week, Brendan Rigby and I published a post together over at WhyDev.org, reflecting on People in Aids annual report The State of HR in International Humanitarian and Development Organisations’. I am highlighting a few key excerpts below, especially on making sense of Generation Z and that new HR challenges in the aid industry need to be discussed further in the context of academic institutions and development studies courses.

You can read the full post here:

One of the biggest challenges that the report tries to address is that it shares best HR practices and presents humanitarian HR as a professional managerial discipline within the aid industry. When it comes to teaching, training and mentoring (see for example the case study on Save The Children’s cooperation with executive management coaches for new country directors, p.15) humanitarian HR certainly tries to look at ideas from other sectors, and an important aspect of the report is that it shares case studies that may raise the bar for the whole industry as people learn what good employers and employees can and should offer.

The most interesting aspect, and probably most relevant in the WhyDev context, were the reflections on the “rise of Generation Z” and the prediction that “HR professionals are going to have to employ some very different recruitment tactics if they are to harness the enthusiasm and technical abilities of this new group in the marketplace” (p.22). We think that the challenge will go beyond the ‘espressos & cool food’, but also beyond the “creative, fun and inspirational environment” that the report identifies (pp.23-24). J.’s recent post on ‘Hands-On’ experience is a good example that professionalised, office-focussed humanitarian work may offer neither espressos nor the thrills of ‘making a difference’ – in the traditional sense of the ‘hands-on’ work of helping people and rebuilding schools. But, there is a deeper level of misunderstanding in this paragraph on who the ‘Generation Z’ is, how they communicate and, most importantly, what they are looking for career-wise.

We have doubts that the authors really understand how ‘Generation Z’ engage and use social media, not only in their personal lives, but also in their professional lives for communicating, learning and networking. Just being “open about social media, don’t ban Facebook, LinkedIn etc.” (p.23) may only scratch at the surface. In addition, the paragraph is quite presumptive about ‘Generation Z’, suggesting that they will be less loyal, unfocused and uninterested in building a career. “These people do not stick around and build a career…information security issues, such as loss of trade secrets” (p.23). Not only are we a little offended, but think this shows a gross misunderstanding of the nature of humanitarian work and what it takes to build a stable career in the sector (particularly during an ongoing economic downturn, which is the focus of the report). One of the few avenues to a stable career is through the international civil service. We are not sure the authors know what an uncertain, competitive and fluid marketplace and environment it is, nor what Generation Z really wants.

Another issue that is absent from the report is the lack of linkages back to higher education for skill development and learning for future professionals. Many of the skills identified as lacking or being under-represented and under-addressed – teamwork, leadership, professional management, etc. – are those that can be facilitated and nurtured in higher education programmes. There is a proliferation of courses, both undergraduate and postgraduate, around the world offering ‘International Development Studies’ (IDS). Yet, the current state of higher education for development is perhaps not well-known or understood, nor are IDS teachers and organisational HR engaging with one another. We do not think that many of these courses adequately prepare graduates for working in the sector/s, and open debate around the ‘vocationalisation’ of IDS have not really emerged yet. If we need to address many of the areas identified in this report, then it should start in the emerging university courses being offered.

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