All posts by Stephen

IZE Journal 2017 – International, National, Local

Through much of my zoo education career I have engaged with and been a member of the International Zoo Educators association (www.izea.net). This network of passionate and dedicated educators across the globe, most of whom are based in zoos and aquariums, freely share ideas and approaches to engaging people in nature and conservation.

 I was honoured to be chosen by IZE to be on the Executive Committee and to be the Journal Editor for the past 5 issues. The latest, my last, 2017 Journal has just been published and will be circulated to members during August. (Past issues are available on the website).

A diversity of projects and activities are reported upon, many of which can be applied in different contexts, from international to national to local.

The evaluation of activity  is also reported and provides evidence of effectiveness, and lessons to apply in future.

Thanks to all contributors to this journal (and the previous ones) and to the excellent team on the IZE Board for their support and assistance in sourcing articles and proof reading. Best wishes to Judy Mann-Lang who takes up the role of Editor for the next issue.

 

Graduation time – give them a chance

So its that time again when students graduate and move on to the next step in their lives. It is a challenging time in many ways, and somewhat different from when I graduated from various parts of my academic career. Although I too have experienced unemployment and change of direction. However, in the 1980s there was perhaps more support (including the good old UB40 card and benefit) … but we didn’t have the internet and social media.

I have been lucky in recent months to meet many students on animal-care related courses at several colleges, and last week was pleased to return to Sparsholt College to run a couple of workshops on careers and communication skills for the 2nd year students who graduate this summer. Some will move on to colleges and universities to undertake degree studies, some will start their first jobs and others are looking.

There are many students now available for work… and of course not enough jobs directly in their field/career path. So employers are in a lucky position of being able to select what they consider the best candidates for the jobs they have on offer.

Having met lots of students, and been through hundreds of CVs, interviewed many, and employed a number of people through my career, I am aware that application processes can sometimes miss good candidates. Sometimes, the best person for the job doesn’t actually match the job requirements and specification. The challenge is, how can HR and employment practices account for this and give those people a chance – whilst also giving the employer the opportunity to develop and train someone suited to the role on offer. And of course this is especially so with the ‘trainee/junior’ positions.

I have been fortunate to have been given a chance when I chose to switch career and go into conservation education (mid 1980s) even though I had no qualification or experience, just passion, knowledge and enthusiasm. So, as much as possible, I have remembered that and always looked at recruitment to see if its appropriate to give others a chance and created / supported learning opportunities to help students find the right pathway for them.

So, I really do hope for this new generation of graduates, that they can get passed HR gatekeepers and systems and shine through as good candidates for the actual jobs on offer and training opportunities, and that thereby, employers get dedicated, enthusiastic and competent staff who can do the work required, assisted by their academic achievements where possible.

Good luck to all students graduating this summer – and that you get onto the path that you want to and are capable of.

 

Careers Advice – the challenges

Askham Bryan College near York (with other centres in the north of England too) has a very good reputation for specialist land-based further education. The college now has its own Wildlife and Conservation Park – which is of a very high standard, providing students with real experience of the operation and management of a small zoo (and this is a Provisional member of BIAZA).

It was great to meet over 50 of the students this week and provide an insight for them into the world of work with a careers workshop.  The session was designed to give them an introduction to the jobs and career paths available in the zoo and wildlife sector, and with particular emphasis on the process, from job advert to CV and interview.

Whilst I indicated that there are some great opportunities for young people today, and the good work of zoos and wildlife centres is a great career to get into, the workshop provided skills that are transferable to other job situations, and I felt it important to be honest about the issues of current employment practice, HR, competition for jobs, and use of internships (and unpaid work). Students have to be prepared and learn the ways through the systems.

As someone who has interviewed a few hundred people in my career, and been involved in the recruitment process from both sides, I know there are some great people out there seeking employment or the next step on their career path. However, it seems many are finding that there are more barriers to cross and some of the good people get passed over because they don’t get past the selection systems. Good practice is seen across the industry, but at the same time, students and others are faced with different forms of ‘selection’ or ‘discrimination’ (in all but name). Today, as always, ‘zoo jobs’ are popular. So employers have to use some form of ‘selection’ to pick candidates for interview. More often than not, the job description/profile will define qualifications and experience (and skills) appropriate for the role.  These will get used as a ‘filter’ in selecting candidates.

The problem now is that sometimes, there are excellent and suitable people for the job who don’t quite ‘tick the boxes’ and thereby don’t get selected.  My career in zoos started thanks to a zoo education manager seeing that although I had no formal qualifications in biology or education (at the time) but had demonstrated an interest and a passion in my ‘application’. I then undertook my training and formal qualifications once I was in the profession.

Many applicants are rejected on the basis of not having the ‘correct qualification’ (and which college/university rated or not) and not having enough experience. However, they might actually be a better person for the role, its just getting past the ‘gatekeeper’ and demonstrating this at an interview.  Persistence and passion are two characteristics that can help. Volunteering at the desired organisation is another, and worryingly there are now more unpaid internships being used – great opportunities for experience but for many this is a ‘luxury’ as it costs the ‘volunteer/intern’ and good candidates could be excluded due to their own financial or logistical situation.

There is a lot of emphasis upon the ‘candidate’ doing all the right things for their career development – which is of course quite right. At the same time, there are good employers who recognise their role in developing individuals and giving someone a chance. I wish this year’s graduates and college leavers success in their applications and steps on the career ladder, and encourage employers to support the next generation of employees and help them with training and opportunity.   

Conservation Education & Communication – Training at Durrell

The Durrell Conservation Academy in Jersey has been involved in the training of hundreds of conservationists from around the world and its flagship programme is the Durrell Endangered Species Management Graduate Certificate – DESMAN. It was an honour to be asked to run the Conservation Education training aspect of this year’s course.

The participants this year were from Rwanda, Mauritius, Madagascar, Seychelles, St. Lucia, Borneo, Indonesia, Brazil, China & UK, and their four month residential course is validated by DICE, University of Kent. So it was great to play a small part in the delivery and development of the participants learning & engagement in conservation.

For the few days I was at Durrell, I created a workshop on Conservation Education Theory & Practice, covering aspects of learning theory and lots of practical activity in communication and presentation skills. The students were great to work with, and it is a privilege to have met them and been involved in their development, and I was delighted to read their feedback, for example:

“It is very interesting session; the funny way you do the education is good. I think that it helps a lot to share examples of education in conservation. Personally I have got many tips from the sessions and many things to apply back home.”

“Great enthusiasm, some great ideas; kept us interested. Gave me new skills. Very relevant to my career. Useful contact to have”.

For conservation to succeed it is essential that the people and communities around conservation projects are fully engaged and informed; and its not always easy, so we covered using different techniques for different audiences and building the students confidence in this area.  I look forward to hearing of their work in the field in years to come.

 

Career Advice & Preparing for job interviews

In my career I have interviewed a few hundred candidates, and gone through several thousand CVs and application forms. Fortunately, I have been on the other side of an interview just a few times. So it was good to use this wealth of experience and help create the first ABWAK Associate Members Careers Workshop held at Sparsholt College in mid March 2017.

Alongside presentations and activities from ZooStephen on my career, understanding job adverts, CVs, application forms and interviews, the day included advice on volunteering and networking from ABWAK Council member Daniel O’Loughlin (Sparsholt) and career case studies and question time with Kathy Doherty, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo and Meg Fieldhouse, Marwell Zoo.

The delegates, mostly at the start of their ‘zoological’ careers, engaged in discussion and activities designed to help them improve their own CVs, understand the recruitment process better, and prepare for their future careers.

The day was also designed to provide an honest appraisal of the job situation and employment in the ‘zoo industry’, and so delegates were made aware that jobs are very competitive, salaries still low, especially at junior level, and that many are using ‘volunteering and internships’ as additional routes to employment (but there are no guarantees, and risk of working for nothing). Sometimes being an excellent candidate is not enough, there is an element of what some call luck – being there at the right time, knowing the right people etc. Being the best candidate on paper doesn’t necessarily mean being the best person for the job. Unfortunately it is also true to say that the best person for the job may be passed over – and this may be because on paper they don’t have the best qualifications or experience, or they are over-qualified etc. It’s life, and it’s not always ‘fair’.  Be persistent, pursue the dream and passion… but be prepared to alter path and modify goals in the light of experience.

Feedback from delegates showed that 81% strongly agreed that the presentations and activities were excellent (with the remaining 19% agreeing excellent).  And comments included:

Really informative, found all of the talks really interesting and helpful.

Really interesting day to give insight into a process that is frustrating and usually comes without any feedback.

Really enjoyed the day. Excellent information about CVs and interviews which is really relevant.

The day was very beneficial to help me understand the positives and negatives of zoo work. Also have new ideas and changed path to achieve my goal.

Absolutely fantastic! I don’t think it could have been more helpful!

Thanks to Sparsholt College for hosting and to Daniel, Kathy & Meg for their input and to ABWAK.
More ABWAK Career Workshops are planned, and I offer careers talks as ZooStephen.

Experiential Learning at Dudley Zoo

There are many ways to learn and expand knowledge. There is undoubtedly a place for lectures, books, private study and classroom activity. However, a lot of ‘theoretical’ and ‘philosophical’ learning is put into context and enhanced by opportunity to engage ‘in the field’ and undertake experiential learning.

I was delighted to lead students from Sparsholt College, Hampshire on a field trip to Dudley Zoological Gardens so that they could fully appreciate the practicalities of operating a zoo, designing enclosures for diverse species, and working within the constraints and opportunities of a historic site of national importance with Dudley Castle, and the important (and listed) 20th century modernist architecture of Tecton buildings – and on a hill.


Dudley Zoo celebrates its 80th year this year, and has seen many changes in both species and exhibits in this time, which includes the original ‘Tecton‘ buildings for animals such as polar bears and elephants (no longer kept) and their adaptation for other species, as well as the creation of a diversity of other exhibits from chimpanzees to Asiatic lions on the site. Comments and questions from the students in response to seeing and experiencing the site illustrated the value of spending time exploring and discovering, as well having some guided time and developing real understanding of the way in which the zoo has worked to cater for the animals, staff and visitors.

Zoo visits enable students to ask questions, to observe and to develop and challenge opinions. Zoos are varied and there are diverse issues faced. Students understand through their own experiences what challenges there are, and that keepers are working hard for their animals and within constraints of budgets as well as site.

Through the day Dudley Zoo staff were welcoming, friendly and happy to answer questions. It was therefore, great to end the day with opportunity to question the zoo curator and registrar, and hear about some of the history but also the work in progress and development plans.

So a day out may appear to be ‘fun’ and even ‘time off’ but in fact such a visit consolidates and extends learning and understanding, providing context and experience – and is highly recommended!

The importance of networking – in praise of ABWAK

For 160+ keepers, 4-5 March 2017 was a very full weekend of networking, talks, workshops and activity held at Colchester Zoo. The annual ABWAK Symposium was once again a huge success, and I was proud to be Chair of the meeting, and complete my term as Chair of the Association and be honoured with the new role of Vice President.

The weekend featured many different topics and taxa, but was framed around our theme of expanding knowledge and networks. The two keynote talks – David Field, Zoological Director ZSL and new ABWAK President on day 1, and Lesley Dickie, CEO of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (& Jersey Zoo) on day 2, focused upon both the importance of knowledge and of networks – but also the pitfalls of ‘fake news’, having trust, responsibility, ethics and honesty and having ambition, learning from failure, and being brave in career choices and development.

The network of zookeepers (and private keepers, along with those aspiring to be keepers through courses etc) has significantly advanced and grown since ABWAK was founded in 1974, not least with the development of the international network ICZ which held its first meeting in 2003.

I joined ABWAK in March 1987 when small groups of keepers met occasionally including for social activity such as inter-zoo quizzes, & the keeper training course (national extension college) was well established, but the network was small. However, over the years and especially so in the past decade, the association has become praised for its symposium and knowledge sharing, alongside its training role with well received workshops on a diversity of topics.

The ABWAK / keeper network is important and now has over 1000 paying members. It has directly helped many participants in both developing their own knowledge and practice but also in career moves. It is often those ‘casual’ relationships and conversations that lead to opportunities, and knowing who might be willing to volunteer to help on a studbook or have ideas and advice … as well as those that may be possible new employees or employers.

To this end, I’m delighted to be helping ABWAK deliver its first Associate Member workshop on 18th March at Sparsholt College, focusing upon careers and helping those aspiring to become keepers to improve their job selection, application forms and CVs, and interview techniques. Then once they have entered the profession to utilise the network effectively and contribute to the development of their profession into the future.

Challenging Communication – Training @Longleat

Spare a thought for those members of staff in zoos, aquariums and visitor attractions that are tasked with communicating with visitors. It’s not as easy as you may think.

I was delighted to work with the excellent staff team at Longleat, Wiltshire, mid January 2017, in two one day workshops developing their skills in presentation and communication.  Longleat is an amazing place – not only the UK’s first safari park (opened 1966) but also has a walk around animal adventure area, lake and boat safari, play areas, train, the maze, and of course Longleat House and estate.

As an illustration of the challenge faced by the ‘educator/ keeper/presenter’, we looked at the Longleat Jungle Cruise – which is a short boat excursion on the lake, featuring Californian sea lions (an opportunity to feed), African hippo, gorilla islands and native wildlife. The presenter not only tries to talk about all the species, some conservation concerns, and other aspects of Longleat, but also do the safety announcements and oversee the sea lion feeding with the passengers who want to do it (small charge).

As part of my workshop, in small groups, the participants looked at what the objectives should be for the cruise, using the ‘Learn, Feel, Do’ model and enacted the experience – with considerable humour.

Sometimes, its good to recognise that you can’t say it all, and visitors aren’t going to listen to it all anyway. So the challenge is to make the ‘talk’ and associated activities FUN and set realistic objectives to achieve, not least of which is to inspire and excite visitors with the natural world and encourage them to find out more and get engaged in activity to support long term conservation.

The workshop included diverse activities and presentation of ideas and background and I thank the team at Longleat for their very positive feedback, for example:
Really good day, enjoyed the practical part a lot. Thank you.
Very informative and inspirational.
Very informative. Gave me more confidence to do talks. Thank you.
Excellent workshop. Well prepared and researched. A range of examples with numerous ideas out of the box, inspiring a different way of thinking. USP is enthusiasm + passion.

 

Folly Farm Communication & Presentation Skills

“Exceptionally encouraging throughout. Thanks very much.”

“It was a good day, really enjoyed the course. I learnt a lot and have picked up new ways to talk to people.”

“Very much enjoyed the course and feel it was good equal listening and involvement. Learnt a lot and feel more confident in public speaking. Thank you.”

It was great to return to Folly Farm this week (after the ABWAK conference there in March) and this time to have a small group of staff on my communication and presentation skills workshop. Thanks to them for taking part and their excellent feedback. I enjoyed it too, and adapted some exercises to be Folly Farm specific and was impressed with the group exercise on doing a rhino talk. I look forward to visiting Folly Farm again and seeing staff in action!

Folly Farm, near Tenby, South Wales, is certainly developing and growing and has just won ‘Best day out in Wales’ – with 4 unique attractions in one – farm/barn, zoo, funfair & play.  A new entrance building and shop area in construction right now, plans for a holiday village and continued work on managing and developing the animal collection … so definitely a place to visit and keep an eye on. Thanks to Folly Farm for booking ZooStephen.com

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