What does an aid worker do? (Skills and duties explained)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 15 September 2022

Published 3 January 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Being an aid worker is one of the most important careers that you can have. Although it can be incredibly demanding and challenging, the job itself can provide immense support and relief to people in need. Before choosing to pursue a career in aid work, it's best to know what the job might entail and what it often requires. In this article, we outline what an aid worker does, what the main responsibilities and expectations of the job are and what essential skills aid workers possess.

What does an aid worker do?

To answer 'what does an aid worker do?', they're part of the frontline team that provides emergency support and relief to overseas countries in critical situations. When disaster strikes a country, whether it be natural (earthquakes, disease outbreaks or flooding), or man-made (wars, explosions or chemical spills), aid workers provide assistance such as food, medicine, shelter and transport. Aid workers also aim to devise structured plans and proposals to try to resolve the issues at hand. Aid work is one of the most demanding jobs you can have, but it can have a big impact on lives across the world.

Related: 7 jobs for humanitarians (with duties)

How much do aid workers earn?

Aid work, also known as humanitarian work, has a national average salary of £23,605 per year. The average annual salary for aid workers varies across a range of different job locations, companies, positions and levels of experience. For instance, entry-level volunteer aid work is likely to be unpaid, yet the national average salary for executive assistant work at the British Red Cross starts at £36,303 per year, so your salary depends highly upon the work that you're doing.

Related: How to become an international aid worker in 5 steps

What are aid workers responsible for?

Aid workers have a huge amount of responsibilities and duties due to the crucial natures of their jobs, as people in need are relying on you for their very livelihood. There are many key responsibilities across multiple areas that you're likely to have if you choose to pursue a career as an aid worker. These responsibilities can include:

Providing emergency aid

The main responsibility of your job is to provide aid to overseas countries that are in a state of emergency following a natural or man-made disaster. The disaster may have left people without essential supplies, so your task is to ensure they receive adequate food, water and shelter. You may also have the task of providing medical supplies to those heavily affected by the disaster or transporting them to secure locations. Your main aim as an aid worker is to ensure the affected people receive essential care to restore them to a state of positive well-being.

Related: How To Become a Paramedic (with duties and skills)

Managing and coordinating staff

Ensuring people receive sufficient aid is undoubtedly a team effort, so you may be managing different teams of staff and coordinating their specific tasks and duties. After a disaster, there's usually a lot of help to provide across multiple areas, so organising teams to each handle specific aspects of aid is a way of ensuring that you give help most efficiently. For instance, you may choose to organise a group of staff to hand out food and water, whilst another group is gathering together all the injured or transporting people to safety.

Reporting and assessing aid proposals

Aid workers assess and report on the progress rate of the aid given and devise structured proposals on how to give the aid more effectively. A top priority for aid workers is to help as many people as possible in a short time, so it's necessary to keep track of what is working and what isn't. If, for instance, people aren't receiving food supplies when they're expected to, you create a new plan that achieves a more streamlined, successful distribution.

Related: What is incident reporting? (With definition and examples)

Liaising with authorities and donors

A key aspect of aid work is also to liaise with authorities and potential donors to gather help and financial support. In critical times, it's important to have as much external help as possible to ensure you mitigate the disaster fallout and to ensure that aid is not at risk of running out. Forming connections with United Nations agencies, charity donors and partnering organisations allows you to develop a collaboration that ensures the country receives all of the aid and humanitarian support it requires.

What to expect as an aid worker

Aid work offers a huge range of different responsibilities, schedules and work environments, from administration and management work in an office setting to practical work in the field. Therefore, your average daily experiences as an aid worker can vary significantly depending on such factors. There are several key things you can expect throughout your career as an aid worker:

High-pressure situations and responsibilities

When you're a frontline aid worker on the immediate scene of a disaster, every moment of every day is pivotal in deciding how to effectively give aid and support. With countless people needing supplies, how efficiently you use your time is crucial, so be sure to prepare for heavy responsibilities and pressures throughout your work. Any job that requires you to lend aid in times of need is bound to be as demanding as it is valuable.

Related: Interview Question: 'How Do You Work Under Pressure?'

A strong sense of collaboration

As an aid worker, you're one member amongst an entire team of staff aiming to give adequate help and support, so expect a strong sense of teamwork and much collaboration throughout your career. With vast amounts of people needing immediate help, aid workers have a well-unified team with great communication skills who can ensure every person receives ample attention and sufficient aid. Your team is also a great support system that can offer encouragement and motivation to accommodate the demanding, and at times potentially overwhelming, nature of the job.

Related: Collaboration Skills: Definitions and Examples

Prolonged hours of work

Aid workers perform several hours of work every day, with shifts that can last through the night or start in the early hours of the morning. The purpose of the aid you provide is to help countries in critical situations, so every moment prioritises the giving and overseeing of aid, whether that be by day or by night. Also, there may be emergency situations that arise, such as a person in a grave condition, or running out of supplies, so prepare for calls to help even outside of your usual working hours.

Related: 14 tips to survive working long hours and stay productive

Multiple changes across various locations

Aid workers lend help to countries across the globe, wherever people need it. They often receive temporary residence at the place of work, whether it be in a refugee camp, city, small village or town, or even a remote location. It may be an environment with which you're at least somewhat familiar or somewhere completely foreign. You may also be unexpectedly relocated to a new post in a different location, so always be prepared for these changes.

Essential skills aid workers have

Being an aid worker is an important job and therefore requires you to have a wide range of skills. These are essential in helping you perform your job with the utmost professionalism. These main skills include:

  • Clear and empathetic understanding: The people in need are in a desperate state, so you're able to accurately convey the help you're giving them whilst also being attentive to their own needs and emotions.

  • Strong organisational and planning skills: You're able to swiftly coordinate staff members to specific areas for aid, developing and implementing long-term plans for support.

  • Confident communication and language skills: Not only are you responsible for communicating with the people you're helping, but you're also tasked with liaising with potential donors and organisations, so having clear communication and multilingual skills is imperative.

  • Calm and patient mentality: You're likely to experience stressful or pressured situations, so being able to have a calm and clear mind at all times is crucial.

  • Vast cultural sensitivity: Whilst conducting aid work in overseas countries, it's necessary for you to be understanding of their different cultures and behaviours, and to be sensitive to this whilst carrying out your aid.

Related: What is empathy? With steps on how to be more empathetic

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