Working in conservation and environment: Employer case study
Charlotte Corney gives a flavour of what it's like to work at the Isle of Wight Zoo.
What does your company do?
We are a zoo that is open to the public, but we specialise in conservation and animal welfare. We aim to make education about the natural world as accessible as possible, with the hope of inspiring the next generation of conservationists.
How many people do you employ?
We employ between 15 and 30 staff, depending on the season.
Where are you based?
We’re based in Sandown on the Isle of Wight.
What types of roles do you offer?
We offer all the main jobs that you might expect to find in a tourist attraction, such as maintenance and construction, horticulture, electrical, accounting, admin, operations, catering, retail and marketing.
We also have roles in conservation, animal management and care, education and research.
Do you have to be qualified in a specific area or subject to work for the company?
We have some specialist roles and then some more general ones.
Among the specialist roles we have an education conservation officer. For this role you need a teaching qualification and some experience of teaching in a formal education setting. You will need a passion for communicating information about the natural world and good people skills.
We employ an animal manager and animal keepers. The animal manager job requires animal management qualifications, either a diploma or degree, but also at least five years’ relevant experience either within a zoo or in animal care. People management skills are an important part of this role.
For animal keepers we require animal management or care qualifications, which could be BTEC National Diplomas or equivalent. A degree in zoology or biology is also relevant. It is essential to have experience (employed or voluntary) in animal care, such as rescue centres, stables, kennels, vets, zoos or wildlife parks. Motivation is important as well as an interest in educating the public and the ability to interact and communicate with a diverse audience.
We employ horticulture staff for the park. For this no formal qualifications are required, although we do prefer formal training in horticulture. Experience is required for higher-level positions but on-the-job training is provided.
On the maintenance side we employ electricians, who must be properly qualified, and there are some maintenance/construction workers who carry out routine maintenance duties. We ask for relevant vocational qualifications in areas such as plumbing or bricklaying.
On the admin side we employ an operations manager and an accountant. The operations manager needs to have experience of business management, qualifications in HR and training in health and safety. They need to prove they have a good track record in operations management or supervision.
For the finance role we ask for relevant qualifications such as AAT and experience in management accounting.
We also have roles in catering. The catering manager needs proven experience in the catering industry and higher-level food hygiene certification. We don’t ask for academic qualifications. It’s experience that is important and also the ability to manage a team. Catering assistants need basic food hygiene and we can provide this training. Experience is useful, as are good customer care skills.
We have a shop in the zoo and online and employ a retail marketing manager. We don’t ask for formal qualifications but a relevant degree in retail/marketing is desirable. Experience in retail and marketing is essential with a proven performance record.
Our retail assistants don’t need formal qualifications but relevant experience is useful, as well as good customer care skills.
What’s next for your business?
As zoos become more focused on their mission to impact positively on the conservation of the natural world, we anticipate a continual rise in the number of associated education-based roles. Positions dedicated to communicating with visitors and schools and demonstrating the wonders of the natural world through the living collection will increase. This will mean more animal trainers, interpreters, etc. are required to assist with both formal and informal education.
Other areas of growth will be in research and conservation. As zoos become increasingly reliant on funding from the public, there may be an increase in jobs relating to marketing and fundraising.
Do you have any more advice?
A zoo is a world within a world. Opportunities are vast and diverse, with both the conservation and commercial sectors operating side by side for the greater good of the natural world. Zoos have increasingly tight budgets though and need candidates who are self-motivated and hardworking.
Competition is very high for animal care positions, with most zoos receiving many more applications, often with experience and qualifications, than they have vacancies. If you wish to enter a career working with animals, you should be prepared to offer your services voluntarily to local charities to build up experience. This will also show your high personal commitment to researching and learning about the natural world before applying for zoo-based jobs.
Zoos now invest in creating a workforce that values the customer, regardless of the department individuals work within. During the selection process managers will therefore be looking for ‘right-fit’ personalities with great attitude and will pick those who are willing to ‘go the extra mile’ in this specialist environment.
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