Tag Archives: Sparsholt College

In The Beginning…

My zoo career began in Spring 1987 when I got a lucky break and a job as a Zoo Education Officer based on my enthusiasm and general knowledge – I was not qualified in biology or teaching at that time. Today, it is much more difficult to get that first, (and second), break and get into the profession. So I was really pleased to be part of the launch of the new Zookeeper and Aquarist Apprenticeship programme at Sparsholt College this August.

The 24 month Apprenticeship programme gives participants a structured and supported way of learning the practice of zookeeping /being an aquarist both in work and with ‘college’ sessions.

The course induction at Sparsholt involved Jo Judge, CEO of BIAZA outlining the importance of zoos and the role of BIAZA and outgoing course coordinator Penny, outlining the course and welcoming all the students. Penny had pretty much created the programme and coordinated the ‘subject experts’ that will deliver aspects of the work to be undertaken.

My role on the induction was to inspire and excite the new apprentices about the profession they are entering into and introduce the role of zoos, giving a historical perspective and some thoughts on the modern ‘keeper’. I also took the opportunity to talk about ABWAK, the UK & Irish Zookeepers association.

As Sparsholt has its own licenced zoo collection some time was spent outdoors looking at the centre, and undertaking a brief “browse identification” exercise. And students also got enrolled onto the college computer network to gain access to the online portfolio system that will be their record-keeping mechanism throughout the apprenticeship.

The group were great to work with at the start of their careers. All much younger than the 34 years I have worked in zoos! and most very recently enrolled in the profession. I wish the apprentices all the best for the course and their work, and look forward to further contact in future.

NEW beginnings don’t just come at the start of a career. As I write this I am about to travel to the UAE and do some on site work with the EPAA, on their amazing new Sharjah Safari with whom I have a consultancy contract. Its been a while in the planning, I started discussions with them back in April 2019, and of course covid got in the way and delayed things more, but I’m looking forward to seeing the site for real, meeting and working with team.

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.

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.

 

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!

Dudley Zoo enclosures – Student visit

Dudley Zoo was opened in 1937 around the ruins of the castle on the hill. It is of particular note for the original features and enclosures designed by the Tecton partnership and Berthold Lubetkin.

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Lubetkin and Tecton created ‘modernist’ structures using pre-stressed reinforced concrete and in the 1930s this was revolutionary. Perhaps their most famous zoo structure is the ‘old’ penguin pool at London Zoo, but Dudley Zoo was designed with these structures throughout, and they made a real striking feature surrounding the ancient castle.

Not surprisingly Dudley Castle is a listed (protected) building of historic importance. However, the 12 Tecton structures that survive (the penguin pool was lost in 1979 due to dilapidation) are now listed Grade II or II* and have World Monument Fund status.  This means that as a zoo, Dudley has a significant additional asset and burden – buildings of great historic importance, but ones that have to be maintained alongside the zoo, even when the suitability for their original inhabitants is passed. It calls for lateral thinking and budgeting – ideal for students to study and review.

I was therefore delighted to work with a group of nearly 40 animal care students from Sparsholt College, Hampshire, on a visit to Dudley Zoo last week looking at enclosure design and contrasting Dudley to other zoos they had visited.

Dudley Zoo has done well in ‘adapting’ old Tecton structures and making them usable and suitable habitats for other species – largely by adding substrates; such as bark; and features such as climbing frames and plants. The rest of the site also has some cost effective enclosure designs using features of the hill and landscape, eg gelada baboons, otters, walk-through lemur wood.

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The students were able to focus upon how the needs of animals, keepers and visitors are met through the different approaches and styles of enclosure, as well as appreciate the constraints and limitations listed buildings have upon a zoo, as well as experience this unique zoo, castle, bird of prey display and talks on sealions and penguins.

Dudley Zoo staff were very helpful answering questions, and the students also got to meet the zoo director. This visit enabled learning outcomes relating to assessing and evaluating enclosures; comparing and contrasting different zoos and understanding zoo design and development within constraints of site and budget.

Thanks to all involved for a good day at the zoo!

DZGSparsholt