Humanitarian Logistics Jobs

Humanitarian Logistics Jobs On the Rise for Supply Chain Pros

By Published On: May 7, 2024


Humanitarian logistics jobs have been on the rise with the increase in global conflict and climate related crises. As Europe and the Middle East continue to be war torn, essential infrastructure is destroyed and requires urgent recovery materials and personnel. Large scale relief efforts require a lot of different skill sets and the ability to manage public and private sector vendor relationships. It requires a willingness to go above and beyond normal supply chain management, operations, and logistics and to leave one’s comfort zone. If you have logistics experience and a strong desire to help out others, you might just be able to get a gig and some free international travel while you’re at it.

What is Humanitarian Logistics?

Moving large amounts of goods efficiently around the world is what modern logistics and supply chain management professionals have mastered. Look around the room you’re in and every single thing you see has moved through a supply chain. From your desk to your chair to your mouse or your monitor, computer, or even your coffee mug, logistics picked it up, moved it from raw materials to production and then transported it to multiple places. 

Most manufacturing is in Asia. That’s a long way to move things. Once the goods get to the States, they have to be received and then transported again. All the while logging movements, paying for transport, and ensuring that the inventory has remained consistent.

Humanitarian logistics jobs is less about moving recently manufactured materials long distances and more about trying to get essential goods like food and medicine into disaster ravaged or war torn areas. Often, the supplies are strategically staged and stockpiled, which changes the nature of transportation and production.

The skill sets are similar but require more specialized capabilities to navigate danger. More often than not, public entities are involved in the procurement and movement of a lot of goods which requires the ability to properly engage with and liaise with government entities. This isn’t as easy as it sounds especially when there’s an urgent need and delays can be a life or death issue.

Things like warehouse prepositioning, demand estimation, and fleet management have taken on a higher priority as tasks that are required for adequate operations in these theaters. Also referred to as “emergency logistics,” the field focuses as much on systematic operations as it does with providing direct services of essential aid to those in need. 

The field itself took on greater importance in America after Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi, exposing a lack of preparedness and an inability to systematically get aid into affected areas. 

According to this MIT paper issued by the Production and Operations Management Society (POMS) a strong desire to mold field logisticians systematically with humanitarian aid workers.

“Lars Gustavsson, Director of Emergency Response and Disaster Mitigation at World Vision International, emphasizes these shortcomings: “Logisticians in the field are often not trained professionals but have developed their skills on the job. Competency-based capacity-building initiatives and mechanisms need to be developed and supported so that humanitarian logisticians’ skills and know-how are raised to more professional levels…” 

Dangers of Humanitarian Logistics Jobs

War zones are dangerous. Disaster stricken areas are dangerous and difficult to access. Regardless of how the need arises, the ability to reach hard to reach places has long been the bailiwick of logistics professionals. 

Sadly, aid is not always welcome. So before deciding that you want to do these jobs, it’s important to determine how dedicated you are to the cause. Spend time researching what is required to work in the field and make sure you’re consulting experts on what to expect. Your supply chain management and logistics skills could come in hand in these areas but they also come at a cost.

Hybrid Public Private Sector Employment

Perhaps the most prominent public agency that employs a lot of people in humanitarian logistics jobs is the United States Agency for International Aid (USAID). 

“USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USAID/BHA) supports logistics and supply-chain related assistance, deploys experienced logistics personnel, and maintains warehouses storing relief commodities around the globe as part of its effort to ensure rapid responses to humanitarian emergencies.”  

Suppliers, service providers, and transports in these gigs differ from the typical logistics position. The miasma of participants can vary from government agencies, international nonprofits, local nonprofits, and even private donors. The goods procured still have to be stored at strategic points for effective distribution. However, moving the goods around is where a lot of problems typically arise.

MIT Executive Director, Chris Caplice on the Advancement in Transportation & Logistics Careers

Traditional Supply Chain Logistics Skills Transferable 

The following is taken from a USAID Bureau of Humanitarian Aid posting for a Crisis Specialist. 

  1. Possesses expertise in a specific program and operational field within international civilian crisis operations and humanitarian aid, covering various disasters, crises, and catastrophes globally.
  2. Deploys to crisis-stricken areas worldwide to either directly intervene in crises or provide support for crisis and disaster response operations.
  3. Offers expert knowledge regarding the systems and protocols of the U.S. Government concerning international civilian humanitarian aid.
  4. Acts as a technical liaison between various entities such as other U.S. Government Agencies, donors, implementing partners, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, etc., advising on optimal coordination with USAID programs and methodologies related to crisis operations.
  5. Specializes in addressing precedent-setting policy, program, and operational challenges, contributing to the development of policies, strategies, processes, procedures, and plans applicable across the agency.
  6. Identifies and suggests solutions to significant problems crucial for shaping the future direction of international crisis programs, disaster response efforts, and operational functions.

It’s evident that soft and hard skills of supply chain logistics can easily transfer into some humanitarian logistics jobs. We’ve written and talked a good deal about how supply chain success and leadership stems in part from the ability to balance internal stakeholder obligations with external vendor and provider relationships. Humanitarian logistics more often includes being able to balance public regulations and private sector involvement and how each impacts direct service to a civilian in crisis.

For instance, if you’re transporting medical aid supplies into a “hot zone” there are defined rules of engagement and things that you need to consider in a real time sense, which includes how to keep your own team alive. Is your vehicle properly marked? Have you liaised with proper authorities involved in aid distribution to allow safe passage of neutral parties? Are you bringing proper personnel to ensure delivery and distribution?

As one can imagine, it’s not exactly last mile amazon deliveries from a distribution center in Iowa or even figuring out how to get your cargo ship around a drought lowered Panama Canal. But similar principals do apply.

The urgency of your logistical duties is typically greater. You’re transporting essentials for human survival in a time sensitive manner.And if you’re responsible for said transportation, traditional routes could be compromised. Damage to roads and bridges could require innovative approaches to deliver your load. In Ukraine, drones and helicopters have been deployed as innovative approaches to deal with compromised infrastructure in a war zone.

Transportation and distribution of goods is difficult enough in zones that aren’t impacted by disaster or conflict. However, supply chain folks are professional problem solvers and will find a way to make it work. However, the increased training and certifications required to operate emergency and humanitarian logistics add a layer to entry that not everyone is prepared to accept. 

Humanitarian Logistics Jobs

Some examples of positions in the field of humanitarian or emergency logistics:

  • Director of Transportation
  • Director of Planning & Transportation
  • International Disaster Response Coordinator
  • Senior Logistics Coordinator
  • Import Export Specialist
  • Logistics Operation Analyst
  • Logistics Manager
  • Security Manager

Growth Potential 

Most people that get into these jobs transferred in from other supply chain jobs. It’s highly specialized so it’s unlikely that one just falls into this gig. It’s also a calling because of the danger and knowing that you’ll witness a lot of suffering, first hand. It’s not for everyone. But it can be just as rewarding as it is challenging.

It’s often considered a lateral move because nonprofits (NGOs) and public entities typically make up most of the humanitarian logistics jobs.  While pay scales might differ, the experience one gains is highly specialized and unique. The logistics of disaster areas and conflict zones requires a different set of problem solving skills not often seen in traditional logistics and supply chain jobs. If there’s no road to drive your trucks on and the ports are closed, you have to improvise. Being able to problem solve in these arenas could provide lucrative experience in traditional logistics’ jobs.

Most successful supply chain professionals have interacted with recruiters because the work is so niche that most internal talent acquisition departments don’t have the adequate reach to source logistics leaders. It’s unclear whether logistics recruiter can help job seekers find work in emergency logistics but it can’t hurt to try contacting some. For organizations looking to hire in this field, you would be well served to work with a logistics recruiter in order to tap these talent pools.


An article by supply chain logistics professional Carlo Lippold discusses his ability to use his specialized experience to work in a humanitarian logistics position in Ukraine.

“With over 8 years under my belt, I’ve cultivated skills that span process enhancement, impeccable customer service, and adept problem resolution. However, life outside the confines of a warehouse has shown me the immense power of humanitarian endeavors.”

Carlo used the supply chain skills he developed to proactively seek out opportunities to lend a hand. It’s not often that one can weave compassionate action into a career path with a lucrative future. But Carlo will have served both of his passions while further enhancing his marketability by performing emergency logistics operations in a disaster stricken area. He should be able to call his shots back in the States and advance his supply chain career into leadership positions at a faster rate, should he choose to do so.

Regardless, there will always be opportunities in humanitarian and emergency logistics for those that wish to seek diversity in their supply chain career paths. Just be sure to consult experts and have a thorough understanding of where and how your skill sets can safely be put to use in these theaters.

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