What Qualifications Are Needed to Be a Humanitarian?

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Over the last thirty years, the humanitarian aid sector has become increasing professional. As the aid industry has grown and funding has increased, humanitarian organisations have sought more qualified personnel to manage their programmes. Alongside this, universities and colleges have begin offering more qualifications in humanitarian aid. So, if you want to be a humanitarian aid worker, what qualifications are should you get?

The qualifications you need to be a humanitarian aid worker include completing a bachelor and master’s degree, with the at least the master’s in a relevant subject. Humanitarian aid workers also need be qualified in the technical area they are working in, such as finance, logistics or medicine.

Therefore, if you want to work in humanitarian aid, you should consider the following qualifications.

What to Study If You Want to Be a Humanitarian?

There are three main areas of qualifications you should consider to start a career as a humanitarian. Firstly, studying qualifications related to international development, development studies or humanitarian action will allow you to work in what is a known as ‘generalist’ humanitarian aid roles. These jobs include management, grant writing, reporting, coordination and operations. Studying either a master’s qualification or completing a post-masters training course will allow you to work in one of these aid jobs.

The second group of qualifications you should study to work in humanitarian aid will allow you to work in ‘technical’ roles. Technical jobs include programme management in health, nutrition, water and sanitation and shelter. For these humanitarian aid jobs, you need to be qualified in the technical area you wish to work in, such a medicine or structural engineering, at least to masters level. You then should study some humanitarian aid short course qualifications afterwards.

The third area of qualifications you can complete to become a humanitarian aid worker will allow you to join what is known in the aid industry as ‘support services’. The support services of a humanitarian operation include finance, logistics and HR and work to support the implementation of humanitarian projects. To work in humanitarian aid in support services, you should study qualifications in supply chain management, finance and accountancy or human resource management.

As well as studying university qualifications, such a relevant bachelors or masters, to start a career in humanitarian aid you should also complete short course qualifications and trainings. There are many organisations offering qualifications you can study in humanitarian action, as well as in specific areas such as project monitoring and evaluation for humanitarian action, grant writing and security. Gaining these additional qualifications will help you get a job as a humanitarian aid worker.

Humanitarian Aid Online Courses

If you are looking to work in humanitarian aid, we highly recommend the online course International Humanitarian and Development Careers. We think it provides one of the best overviews of the humanitarian sector and gives valuable insights for those searching for a job in humanitarian aid. Follow the link to the course’s page for more information.

The International Humanitarian Law Theory and Practice online course offered by Leiden University in the Netherlands provides a fantastic theoretical overview of humanitarianism. We think it’s one of the top online courses for those who want to understand the basics of international humanitarian law. Click the link to visit the course’s page for more information.

We also think the Humanitarian Action Response and Relief online course offered by Coventry University is a must for anyone looking to become a humanitarian aid worker. It only takes around three weeks to complete and would be a major addition to the CV of anyone looking to work in the aid sector. The link is to the course’s page.

What Should You Major in to Become a Humanitarian Aid Worker?

Humanitarian aid is a very demanding industry. To ensure highly qualified staff, aid organisations usually require applicants to be have studied up to master’s level. However, selecting the right major will also help you start a career as a humanitarian. If you want to become a humanitarian aid worker, you should choose a major in a subject related to international aid, development or humanitarian action. You could also study peace and conflict studies, refugee and migration studies or disaster management as a major to become qualified to be a humanitarian.  

Humanitarian aid agencies also require staff that have knowledge of global issues and international relations. To become qualified as a humanitarian, you could also consider majoring in economics, international relations or public policy. Majoring in these subject areas qualifies you to work in many roles in international aid, including grant writing, policy development and advocacy. Aid agencies are regularly looking for qualified people to take these roles.

As well as needing qualified people to manage aid delivery and provide technical guidance, humanitarian aid organisations need people qualified in finance, logistics and human resources to support aid operations. The aid industry is actually very short on people who are qualified in these areas, so a major in accountancy, supply chain management or human resources could also help you begin a career in as a humanitarian. If you do major in these subjects, you should also complete additional qualifications related to humanitarian aid by completing short courses or doing an internship.

Another area of qualifications you could major in to work as a humanitarian would be the medical fields. Becoming a qualified doctor, nurse or pharmacist would also allow you to work on humanitarian missions and aid agencies are often looking for medically qualified staff. Alongside medicine, majoring in engineering or architecture could also help you become a humanitarian as NGOs need people qualified in these areas to help with shelter construction and camp building.

A final set of subjects that would be good to major in if you want to be qualified to be a humanitarian worker would be education, social work or gender studies. Qualifying with majors in these subjects allows you to work on humanitarian projects focused on providing education to children affected by disasters, as well as running projects to protect vulnerable people. A major in gender studies could help you to become qualified in gender advocacy or protecting women from gender-based violence.

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What Qualifications Are Best for Humanitarian Work?

Studying a degree in humanitarian action is one of the best ways to become qualified to be an international aid worker.  However, there are also other qualifications you can take that can lead to a career as a humanitarian. Firstly, many humanitarian organisations offer training courses that, once completed, qualify you to work in that NGO. Although getting on these trainee schemes can be very competitive, the qualification you gain, alongside the almost guaranteed job you get in the aid agency upon completion, can really help to start your career as a humanitarian.

As well as qualifying for humanitarian work through completing the training programmes provided by an NGO, you can also complete short courses that provide you with qualifications relevant to humanitarian work. There are several humanitarian organisations providing humanitarian qualifications in person, such as RedR or the Logistics Learning Alliance (LLA). There is also the famous BioForce Institute in France that provides well regarded humanitarian qualifications. Completing short course qualifications on top of your university major can ensure you are best placed to work as a humanitarian.

Alongside the many organisations who run in-person courses and provide qualifications in humanitarian work, there are also a lot of online courses that you can complete to get a better knowledge of humanitarian action. Online courses in project management, grant writing, humanitarian health and food security will all add relevant qualifications for humanitarian work on your CV. You can also do online courses in monitoring and evaluating humanitarian projects, security management and disaster preparedness. You should complete these qualifications as well if you want to work as a humanitarian.

If you want to learn more about how to become a humanitarian aid worker, explore our list of the top humanitarian aid online courses here.


Duncan is the founder of Humanitarian Careers. With over ten years experience in the aid industry across fifteen countries, Duncan set-up Humanitarian Careers to help people launch their own career in international aid.