Category Archives: Workshop

Optimism in the face of adversity?

The world has a virus. Normal life is suspended… but nature continues.

These are very difficult times for many people. The efforts to control the spread of covid-19 ‘locking-down’ communities and countries has meant physical isolation and separation, not just from each other but also from nature. In some respects, nature is pleased with this – the levels of air pollution are down, spring breeding is less disturbed etc.

ZooStephen, like most self-employed service providers has almost shut down with huge loss of business and income – hopefully temporary; I have been able to continue some remote/online activity. One of my favourite training events, teaching on the Durrell Endangered Species Management Graduate Certificate (DESMAN) at the Durrell Academy in Jersey at the start of April was not possible. However, I was pleased to create a suite of online material, resources and video to enable the participants to undertake the ‘Education Theory & Practice’ module without my physical presence.

DESMAN 2020 Participants, Jersey

It was lovely to receive some feedback that even in this modified version, it was “amazing” “enjoyed” and a “favourite” part of the 12 week DESMAN course. The participants represent projects and activity from across the world including Madagascar, Indonesia, St Lucia and Brazil. Although I didn’t get to interact with them, I always feel more optimistic for the future of conservation when I work with these amazing people, who will make a real difference for nature, the environment and their communities in the years to come.

Back home, in Scotland, I am missing going out into the wider countryside and walking in the trees, mountains, coasts… at least I live in a semi-rural area and can enjoy the immediate surroundings of my village. It has in some ways been good to see local people also discovering the local environment for their occasional exercise – obviously maintaining social/physical distancing. Perhaps, once this crisis is abated there will be a new ‘normal’ and people will appreciate each other and the environment more.

Hermitage Waterfall, Big Tree Country near Dunkeld, Perthshire

At this time I am also really pleased to have just become a Trustee of the Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust www.pkct.org . I hope to help encourage and promote engagement in the countryside across my home county, from Big Tree Country to the Cateran Trail and more. I am optimistic that in Scotland, we will value our environment more and improve our relationship to nature & recognise its importance for health and well being. I also hope we will be supportive of a more sustainable and ecological lifestyle – that may be a challenge, but this is a great opportunity to try.

At the Birnham Oak, at least 600 years old, the last remnant of the ancient forest featured by Shakespeare in ‘Macbeth’

An Englishman Abroad – EAZA, Sweden

Every two years the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria [EAZA] have an education conference, and this March it was hosted by Skansen, Stockholm, Sweden.

nearly 200 delegates from 34 countries, EAZA Education Conference, Skansen, Stockholm

I have used the EAZA Education Standards in my work with Chimelong Group, in China, as a way of benchmarking and auditing their work, as well as in further developing their already good educational activities to an internationally recognised standard.

It was great to be able to attend the EAZA Education Conference and to both give a presentation upon my work in China, and a poster highlighting the use of ‘animal shows/performances’ as an educational tool. It was also good to challenge pre-conceived ideas some have about China, and to indicate how important it is that we engage and work to develop conservation education in China.

Skansen in Stockholm is a zoo – primarily for nordic animals, but also some tropical species and a new Baltic Sea Science Center – opening very soon. However, Skansen is also a historical museum, featuring many houses from across Sweden, showing different cultures and styles over the years.

The conference was attended by nearly 200 delegates from 34 countries – and it was great to meet up with old friends and make some new ones too. The networking of ‘educators’ is quite a loud occasion – we all like to talk 🙂 and also a very cooperative and supportive one. We learn from each other and share ideas and thoughts, and with the EAZA standards, which will be adapted to be world standards, we also have a mechanism for developing a professional and strong conservation education programme that is of merit and significance. I am hopeful that Chimelong zoos will lead the way on developing and implementing such standards in China.

The Conservation Education Family

Being a conservation educator can be challenging, sometimes it can seem a lonely path, especially in today’s highly developed and consumerist society trying to raise awareness, raise questions, challenge behaviour etc. And then being a conservation educator in a zoo or aquarium comes with further challenges, including some in other conservation groups that dislike the whole concept of zoos.  Thankfully, educators are happy to share, to work together for common goals, and to support each other. In the zoo and aquarium community we are lucky to have the International Zoo Educators Association (www.izea.net)

The IZE family is global and every two years meets for a conference to share, exchange ideas, and learn from one another. The 2018 IZE conference was held in October, in Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates. It was wonderful to see participants from all the continents (except Antarctica of course) and to hear speakers who were from Guatemala to Vietnam.  I was especially pleased to be at this conference, having been the editor of five issues of the IZE’s journal (2013-17), but also because 4 of my new colleagues from Chimelong Group, China, were also able to attend.

For me, this was also a return to the UAE after just over 20 years, having stayed in the ‘old’ Al Ain Zoo whilst volunteering at the National Avian Research Center and visiting friends. The new zoo features the amazing Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre, and a great new safari drive through. The SZDLC is noted as being the/or one of the first ‘sustainable’ building developments in UAE. Visiting the Emirates again, and in this era of environmental consciousness, it was striking to see so much development in the cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and wonder how sustainable this ‘progress’ is, not least with the lack of much evidence of use of renewable energy.

Apart from visiting the Zoo (and an extra day visiting the wonderful Arabia’s Wildlife Centre and Wasit Wetland Centre in Sharjah), we also got to climb a sand dune, eat some wonderful food, try real Arabian coffee and of course eat dates and ‘experience’ the heat (around 37 degrees outdoors).

 

The IZE meeting is always a meeting of cultures and ideas, and this year was no different, and so it was great to experience Arabian hospitality whilst having opportunity to talk to people from China, USA, Brazil, Korea etc…  Whilst some of the conference was sharing “this is what we have done”, it also enabled consideration of such case studies for application in different situations, and there were presentations ‘asking questions’ and reporting on positive outcomes from campaigns and activities.  This year, as in previous meetings, thanks to IZE Institutional Members and the host’s support, a number of “sponsored” delegates attended and brought some great practice and ideas from the field to our attention.

The next IZE conference is in San Diego, USA, in 2020.

Chimelong, Guangzhou & Zhuhai, China – education development

Chimelong Group are the leading zoological organisation in China, currently operating 3 zoos: Chimelong Safari and Chimelong Birds Park in Guangzhou City and Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai (a couple of hours drive south, near Macau).  The Group also manages theme parks/resorts and hotels with the animal attractions.

I’m excited and pleased to be working for them, helping develop education strategy and programmes. They already do some wonderful work and have some great people.  The potential for conservation education and having an influence on people’s understanding of science and action for sustainability, is immense; not least with the millions of visitors to the zoos coming as tourists from other parts of China, as well as locally.

There are challenges of course, but to a large extent these can be seen as opportunities. The fact the organisation has a desire to strive for excellence and both improvement and development, are great platforms to work with. A bonus is that they are very successful and committing resources to enable activity and a quality visitor experience.

Many “in the west” are quick to criticise or jump to conclusions as soon as you say  China or Asia, whereas the reality here is that, yes there is room for change and improvement, but it is gradually being addressed and high standards achieved and aimed for. Indeed, many “western” zoos need to, and can do the same.

The worldwide appeal of zoos in all their forms (over 10% of world population visiting a zoo each year) is something, if utilised and developed, can be a huge force for conservation, and education engagement.  It’s great to be working in this field of activity. making a small contribution to a big effort.

Inspiration & Optimism – DESMAN 2018

There is hope for the future. Conservation is often depicted as a battle and struggle, full of responding to ‘bad news’ and events – which undoubtedly it is. However, we should also be optimistic and celebrate the good news and success stories too. No conservation project, no matter how well conceived, planned and intentioned, will fully succeed unless it has the support of the people. Thankfully there are some amazing, inspiring and dedicated people around the world, working to conserve, protect and develop our understanding of nature. Some of these people are the participants in the Durrell Conservation Academy DESMAN course.

It was an honour and privilege to be invited to speak and lead a few days workshops for the DESMAN in Jersey once again; the third year I have done this. My education and communication ‘course’ was well received and I thoroughly enjoyed engaging with this year’s students who came from: Armenia, Brazil, Canada, China (Hong Kong), India, Nigeria, Samoa, St. Lucia, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Sumatra, & UAE.

Whilst, I was able to inspire and enthuse the participants and demonstrate a diversity of communication and education techniques, I was also inspired and enthused by them too. It’s always good to meet people who are committed to, are doing and will do, great work and to be a small part of their development and conservation activity. Their feedback was also very much appreciated, with some great comments, such as:
“thank you for making it so fun, informative and inspiring”; “I got many new experiences about new techniques of education and awareness programmes – very useful”; and “inspired me to do more in the field of conservation education and community conservation”.

It was of course also great to return to Jersey Zoo, HQ of Durrell and enjoy time in the Zoo – not least the brilliant bat flight enclosure – which in itself has a great community and recycling story in its construction.  We also enjoyed reviewing and critiquing the education for visitors, by observing talks, signs and discussing education programmes. One of the great aspects of the DESMAN is that the diversity of participants may have specific field projects and focus, but they get to understand endangered species management in general and the multi-faceted approach needed for conservation to succeed – including through education and communication.

I am optimistic that this year’s DESMAN participants, along with previous students, WILL go MAD and Make A Difference!

Thanks to Durrell Conservation Academy and to the participants and staff. (Links on social media twitter: @ZooStephen and featured on @Durrell_Academy and on facebook.)

Training and CPD – an important commitment for students and for zoo licensing

Whether you’re a student on a recognised course, volunteer, or a well experienced employed person, training and continued professional development are an essential aspect in any career. In the work of zoos there are various opportunities but some challenges for those wishing to enter the profession and to gain the necessary experience, knowledge and skills, or for those wishing to further develop and keep up to date.

I have been working with Sparsholt College for several years, most notably on the DMZAA zookeepers course, having written one of the units and acting as an assessor. However, I have also been working with animal care students connecting them to the work of zoos. In March I was pleased to help organise and run a day visit for students to Dudley Zoo, with a particular focus upon enclosure design. Dudley Zoo have been very welcoming and accommodating and recognise the value of tailor-made workshops and activities for the students in giving them meaningful experience.

At Dudley we were delighted to see the new snow leopard enclosure (extension) and hear about plans for other developments; to meet staff for Q&A – including education presentation, keeper work, and meet the curator. Through such activity the students not only develop their learning but understand more the profession some of them wish to join and contribute to.

Zoos have many skilled and qualified staff that can support each other and those wishing to join the profession, but there are barriers making it more challenging – not least the ‘you don’t have relevant experience’ or ‘you’re not well connected to zoo work’. Internships are offered by some, but are out of reach of many who can’t afford it. Apprenticeships are another option but of course highly sought after and competitive.

Meanwhile, zoos themselves are subject to external review and licensing by their local authority (in an Act overseen through APHA of Defra). Local Authority staff are charged with organising and overseeing the zoo inspection regime, supported by Secretary of State’s inspectors (vets and zoo professionals). Standardisation and training for zoo inspection is limited – partly due to resources and geography given that authorities across the country have zoos to inspect and costs of running and/or sending staff on training are subject to budget issues. However, it was great to be part of delivering a day of Zoo Licensing Training held at Sparsholt College in March.

The delegates received training and presentations from current chair of the Zoos Expert Committee, vet and zoo inspector Anna Meredith, and zoo inspector, vet and former zoo manager, Jon Cracknell and myself. Additionally we looked at a few of the enclosures at the Sparsholt College Animal Management Centre (which is a licenced zoo). The opportunity to discuss what the ZLA requires, interpretation of terminology, what conditions must be placed on licenses and gain a better understanding of both the process and timeframe for zoo inspections, was welcomed by all. It is hoped that more LA staff and zoo inspectors will undergo regular CPD activity to ensure good management of the Act and good standards in our zoos.

Ready for work?

It’s easy to find a job… at least to find them advertised, thanks to the internet. A new batch of students hits the job market each year, whilst the ‘retirement’ age extends and people need to stay in work/keep looking for work until they’re older. So the competition for jobs is now therefore greater than ever. 

This week – just as the UK was being blanketed in snow – I had the pleasure of running a couple of careers workshops for 1st year degree students at Warwickshire College – Moreton Morrell. Whilst some of the group have aspirations to become self-employed veterinary physiotherapists and others to enter other aspects of animal care, the skills of ‘selling yourself’, developing a CV and coping with interviews are all relevant and needed. It was also useful for them to hear the career backgrounds and case studies of myself and others working in this field. 

Whilst these and other students are now being better prepared for the opportunities that may arise, it’s also important for employers to think about their systems and procedures. Are they missing out on really good people by rigidly applying profiling to interview selection. What if the person hasn’t got the stated qualification? Or has experience in another field that may have similar skills? Will they automatically be rejected? There is skill in recruitment and selection and it is hoped the good employers have some flexibility in their systems and are keen to support and encourage suitable applicants from diverse backgrounds, qualifications and experiences.

After 30 years+ (which includes recruiting many people) I am really pleased to share my experience and answer questions to help others in their endeavours and career pathways.

Winter into Spring

Another year is now well underway and ZooStephen is enjoying the beautiful winter scenery and nature in central Scotland. We’ve had some heavy frost, great snowy days and bright sunshine too, and hints of Spring to come with rivers of snowdrops appearing in early February.

Amongst various activities booked for the year, including career workshops, Durrell DESMAN education and communication sessions, I am delighted to announce an ‘open’ Presentation & Communication Skills Workshop on June 18th, kindly hosted by Dudley Zoo.  For details see flyer advert below. Places limited.

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.