Week 29 – Work Experience

Hi all, I’m away this week so no news update & just a quick blog about work experience
At this time of year we are extremely popular with work experience placements, for students ranging from locals from Cotswold School up to trainee vets. The extra pair of hands at this time of year are a blessing with all the additional talks and displays during the Summer months.
Most work placements last from Mondays to Fridays and involve the student assisting the keepers in their daily duties.  This can be preparing & presenting food for the birds, cleaning the aviaries and assisting the staff with public demonstrations.  This could also however involve some general groundswork (weeding, emptying the bins) or more mundane tasks such as cleaning labels or windows.  However, these are all jobs that we as keepers have to perform on a daily basis and gives the student a rough idea of what the life of a keeper is like.
For me, planning work experiences can start over a year in advance.  Due to a small team of staff we are limited as to how many people we can take on a given week, with a maximum of two.  I work on a first come first served basis and accept students from the age of 14 upwards.  Once a date is confirmed, letters are sent out with full details confirming the details of the placement.
We are generally pretty flexible on placement durations, with most running from Monday to Friday.  General working hours for students are 8 through til 5 but again this is flexible.  On the first morning, students are shown where everything is (toilets, hand wash, staff room etc) and given a full health & safety induction, including how to lift properly & what happens in the event of fire, injury or an escaped dangerous animal (not happened yet!)
The students then spend their time with the keepers and will get the chance to work with most birds during their time.  Obviously access to the birds is restricted (no keys for work experience!) and we won’t place students in aviaries with birds deemed aggressive.  It is surprising how many students turn up expecting to be feeding the penguins and playing with parrots every day and that’s really not a large part of the day at all (more likely to be chopping fruit or cleaning droppings!).  It’s also worth noting that we out out in all weathers.
washing penguins 300x225 - Week 29 - Work ExperienceCleaning poo, a large part of the day!
If our work experience have special interests then we will always try and cater for these.  If they want to be a vet, then we will get then observing if we have to medicate a bird, showing them how to catch correctly, safely restrain, working out dosage & how we administer.  Obviously I can’t allow them to be involved in the process (I’m not letting someone I’ve just met try and catch a bird!) but it can give them a bit of experience for the future.
At the end of the placement we usually have to complete various forms for the students and I keep a record of every student, just in case they contact us in the future for references (which I’m happy to supply).
If you are interested in a work placement with us then details can be found from our website
It really can be a great way to find out if working with animals is the right thing for you, & at least one of our previous work experience students is now working in the zoo industry!

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