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Zoos taking advantage of volunteers and interns?

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by sealion, 1 Mar 2013.

  1. sealion

    sealion Well-Known Member

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    Recently I have noticed (certainly in the UK) that a lot of the internships and volunteering opportunities for aspiring zoo keepers/zoo industry people are getting longer and longer.

    I was under the impression that internships were usually 3-4 months long usually giving the intern valuable skills that would help them enter the zoo career field. Lately I have noticed that a lot of these internships are starting to become year long "posts". Yes, that's 8am-5pm, 4 or 5 days a week for a whole year for absolutely free.

    Whilst I am all for people volunteering to get into the industry, because after all these jobs are very well sought after I can't really understand how zoos expect people to be able to afford to work for free for a year. After all, this isn't volunteering one day a week, or even two, these are essentially full time jobs.

    On a side not I've noticed that some zoos have been asking increasingly more of their regular volunteers so it seems to be a trend to "cash-in" on free workers.

    Presumably it's a result of the recession but I can see this kind of thing restricting people's ability to get jobs if zoos are expecting more and more free work before people land jobs as people don't have an endless pit of money to spend on building up their CVs.
     
  2. sealion

    sealion Well-Known Member

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    To get accepted on these internships you must also be qualified (with a university degree or similar animal related qualification) as well so it's not as if it would substitute for these qualifications.
     
  3. CiaranDUK

    CiaranDUK Well-Known Member

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    I can only speak of my experiences of volunteering at Banham Zoo and another collection. Now, when I started at Banham, I was told that I didn't HAVE to do everything they asked, if I thought it was beyond me or if I wanted to do a bit of work on another section. To this day (although I've not been for a while due to university) I feel that I can still have an input in what I do and what section I'm on.

    When I was at the other collection however, I was frequently told that I had to do a whole load of things in a given time frame otherwise they wouldn't be done, as sometimes I was on my own (usually only for certain periods of time, rather than completely). I was also frequently told that I was doing my job 'too slowly' (despite my thinking that I was doing OK, and later feedback from some keepers at Banham that I wasn't a bad worker) which I thought was wrong as I was there on my own back, helping them run its collection for no direct payment.

    I wish not to rant, but having experienced both sides of what you've mentioned, sealion, I too feel that there are collections out there which take advantage of free work. On rare occasions at Banham I have felt that I have been taken advantage of, but that was only when they were short staffed on the odd day, so I was happy to help there. In fact, I have very much enjoyed volunteering at Banham and have gotten to know a lot of the employees quite well.
     
  4. sealion

    sealion Well-Known Member

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    I totally agree with what you're saying about volunteering. At the collection I volunteer at we have been asked to do more and more work (cover more and more areas) and consequently more and more people are required to be in each day because without volunteers they can't run certain exhibits in the park. Some days we also sell nectar to the guests for lorikeet feeding and handle the money. We have a designated amount of time we're meant to volunteer for each year and I almost got kicked off because I hadn't done any days in a while due to being at uni! (oops)

    I have came close to applying to also volunteer at another collection near my university and they seemed to have the complete opposite approach to volunteers and their work (happy for you to come in whenever and do whatever you felt like doing). The main difference being that the first zoo is run for profit whereas the second, is run for charity/conservation so for one park, volunteers are seen more like free work but at the other they are true volunteers lending a hand.

    So it seems it does vary quite a lot with regular volunteering! It's the onset of the long internships that are most worrying though as they are often the unofficial pre-requisites for getting the jobs in the end.
     
  5. ByeByeBaiji

    ByeByeBaiji Member

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    I volunteered at a small, privately-owned zoo for a summer while going to uni. I really enjoyed my time with the animals there and it has at least given me some zoo experience, as opposed to the none I would have otherwise. But when I first started volunteering, I was told that they didn't have any openings at the moment, but volunteers were given jobs first and that by volunteering I would basically get a job. I was even asked by the lead keeper if I was interested in turning my volunteering into a paid position because she liked me and thought I did a good job.

    Apparentlyyyyy, I heard from another volunteer later, one of the keepers had told the owner (who seemed to have a bad taste in their mouth in general towards volunteers, even though we did a lot of the work when they only had three or four keepers total to pay) that I was "slow with some things", which effectively sealed my fate and I was not given a job. Apparently the owner's response was "we don't need slow people working here". (Ever heard of a training period, dude?) Even though I had only been volunteering there for like, two or three days, and I wasn't taught all their procedures and ways of doing things yet--which is why I was "slow", because I wanted to make sure I was performing tasks correctly.

    I kept volunteering there, though, and they got a summer of free work out of me. There's no doubt I was taken advantage of. I was every bit as qualified to work there as another college girl my own age who worked there, but the volunteer-hating owner decided to just go ahead and capitalise on the fact that I was an animal-loving student looking to be around animals and get experience. Don't get me wrong, I don't expect an instant job volunteering somewhere, not at all. But I went there to apply for a job and was basically told that I just needed to volunteer a bit until the summer opened up a new position, was practically asked to work there, then completely ignored of any chance of a job. On top of that, the owner seemed perpetually annoyed with us volunteers, like we were just doing everything wrong and taking up space and generally being offensive by being unpaid workers.

    So yeah, some places definitely have the potential to use you and be unappreciative. I won't catch myself in that kind of situation ever again, I cannot believe how naive I was.

    I just want to add, now that I've recently graduated, I have a mega-ton of student loans to pay, and there is no way in this universe that I can do any kind of full-time, unpaid internship. And most of them are. Even the paid ones are like "small stipend, housing provided". That doesn't work when you have student loans, which you have in the first place because you had to go to uni, which you had to do so that you could get a job. I will apply to every last job on the radar, but I wouldn't do an unpaid, full-time internship unless I was financially secure. And I won't be financially secure until I get a job that can pay my student loans. Fun little Catch-22 I find myself in.
     
  6. sealion

    sealion Well-Known Member

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    Interesting to hear another similar story! Thanks you! We're not alone!

    I've only got a few more months of uni left so it's getting to that slightly worrying point now! I want to get some more animal experience under my belt before seriously looking for a job but am wary of picking any old thing for all the reasons discussed above! It really is a hard career to get into and it seems to be constantly getting tougher!
     
  7. ByeByeBaiji

    ByeByeBaiji Member

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    I'm basically losing my mind. I need to move out of my mother's house. At this point, my philosophy is to apply for every entry-level animal care position I can at any zoo or aquarium. I've applied for like, five in the past week. I'm willing to move anywhere. I'm really crossing my fingers and everything, but it's hard to believe I could get hired when there is almost certainly someone else out there applying who has a degree AND who had the opportunity to do a proper internship at a major zoo.

    I wish there was some way to convey to the hiring manager that animals are my life, I adore spending time with them and talking to people about them, I spend hours on Wikipedia going through different families/genera/species just to learn and understand phylogenetic relationships better, I want to be involved in conservation efforts, I am passionate. But it seems virtually impossible to get that passion across in the cover letter/CV/resume. I try, but anyone can write on a piece of paper how dedicated they are. I'm so willing to show it if given the chance. I passed Organic Chemistry I and II! I am qualified to scoop poop! >:[

    I wish you the absolute best of luck, sealion. I think you should get in some volunteering before you graduate so you can put something down, you know? That way they know that you have some experience and that you cared enough to try and get experience, even if it wasn't paid. At least we won't be competing for jobs, as I believe you're in the UK and I'm in the US. :p
     
  8. sealion

    sealion Well-Known Member

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    I'm sorry to hear that you're having such trouble getting a job! The very best of luck to you too! From what i've heard (animal career-wise) if you keep persisting with it, you'll eventually get where you want to be if you're passionate enough, and you certainly are passionate so fingers crossed!

    I think I will continue with volunteering at my home zoo for a while, to keep that going. I did a 2 week work experience/volunteering type thing at a zoo in Scotland (the summer before last) and I collected my dissertation data at a seal sanctuary last summer so I do have a few related things to put on my CV. I'm hoping to try and do a short internship (3-4 months) after I graduate (and try and make sure it is as relevant as possible to potential jobs) and then just hope for the best! Having to also think of back up career plans too just in case though! (Which I would rather not have to worry about!)
     
  9. Zooplantman

    Zooplantman Well-Known Member

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    I find it difficult to understand volunteers complaining about being free labor. Isn't that what you signed up for? Did you have a different understanding when it started?

    And any manager who doesn't respect and take great care of his or her volunteers is a fool!

    I will add that it doesn't surprise me if a hiring manager is not overly moved by an applicant's passion. Passion often doesn't = skill or experience or good sense. Sometimes it leads to some really bad choices on the part of the passionate employee (the zoo world is full of keepers who "loved too much" with disastrous results). Ability to do the job, learn, do as instructed, be on time, learn and respect the rules, etc. may be a better set of things to emphasize in your applications. Your passion for animals is important, but not your best selling point as a possible employee
     
  10. ByeByeBaiji

    ByeByeBaiji Member

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    Hence why that's not what I put down. I put down my relevant work experience and the duties/responsibilities I did in those positions. And by "passionate" I don't mean I anthropomorphise animals, I mean I want to make a positive impact in the world. I was trying to say that on a resume, you can say you did XYZ, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're a nice person, or that you can work well with others, or that you are interested in the conservation/research side of animals, rather than just thinking they're "cool". My point is that you can't really "be yourself" on those formal documents, so they can't really tell what type of person I am just by seeing "Oh, only THIS much experience?" I want the most basic, entry-level job, I don't want some insane upper-level supervisory position. I just knew someone was going to take my post as a declaration of "I like animals lol, that's what I put on my resume!" I'm not a child, my "passion" is not rooted in wanting to cuddle the animals.

    Yes, I did have a different understanding when I started, which I said in my post. : / I wasn't complaining about being free labour, I was complaining about being told "volunteer for a few weeks until the summer so we can hire you" and then not hearing anything about it after. It was pretty clear that I was being used. On top of that, the owner was always passive-aggressive towards volunteers and acted like they were incompetent. It's not right to do that to people who are trying to help your cause for free. And it's really rough, I think, to expect people to have all this experience when the main way you can get it is to do something that's unpaid and full-time. We have bills to pay.
     
  11. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member

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    This shows how important is research before and during your zoo career.

    If you are applying for internship or training, ask beforehand yourself and your employee: what skills, experience and knowledge you get? How it will help your career? Is training in a small, crappy zoo likely to help or hinder you career in a big, good zoo? If it is suggested that internship may lead to permanent job, ask if any regular keepers recently were hired after training, and what are possibilities of it? Talk to these keepers, too. These things should be clear and are important.

    If all your employee wants and gives is unpaid labor for a good cause (classical volunteering), this should also be clear. He/she should never cheat people with non-existing prospects of useful experience or soon regular job.

    I agree that a year-long stint of full-time unpaid work is very unusual. Young person developing own position in life should stay clear of it.
     
  12. ByeByeBaiji

    ByeByeBaiji Member

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    Oh dear. Is volunteering at a small zoo going to stop people from hiring me? It wasn't amazing, but it wasn't bad. It's the only exotic animal experience I have, and there were no large, AZA ones I could get to to try and volunteer. :[ I'd rather put it down than nothing, I think... I just wanted to get some experience somewhere rather than have nothing. I would hate to think that I'm going to be punished for that.
     
  13. sealion

    sealion Well-Known Member

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    The point of the topic was about the length of unpaid internships increasing.
    The fact that some zoo volunteers (in my experience) are being pushed to come in more often, handle money, forced to do certain jobs at certain times and are scolded if they step a toe out of line was a side point that I think is linked to the main topic.

    It's less about "but you're doing free work that you signed up to do" and more about how some zoos treat volunteers for their work and what they demand off of them.
     
  14. Zooplantman

    Zooplantman Well-Known Member

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    Yes,
    Which is why I stated my opinion about managers who do not respect volunteers.

    I will add that Internships must be educational. If the Intern isn't learning, gaining experience and being trained...but is merely unpaid labor... then there ought to be legal avenues for redress. If the internship lasts too long to continue to be educational then it is no longer an internship. Here in the USA there are legal issues with an employer making such improper demands of "interns."

    Volunteers are different. If the volunteer position is essentially full time unpaid work, then the volunteer has to decide whether he or she wants to be doing that and can afford to It is not the zoo's responsibility to make it suitable for the volunteer's lifestyle. If no one agrees to do it, as nanoboy suggests below, then the zoo will have to decide what they need to do to get the job done.
     
    Last edited: 3 Mar 2013
  15. nanoboy

    nanoboy Well-Known Member

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    Supply and demand. There is a never ending queue of people wanting to get zoo experience. That, not surprisingly, leads to abuse.
     
  16. tschandler71

    tschandler71 Well-Known Member

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    Interns at any position being used? You don't say. I thought that was the whole point of an internship at least it was with my student teaching.
     
  17. ByeByeBaiji

    ByeByeBaiji Member

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    I highly doubt that the situation I experienced would ever take place at an AZA zoo, but I was volunteering at a small, privately-owned one. The fact of the matter is that I went in there to apply for a job, not even thinking about volunteering at the time, and I was told that I just needed to volunteer for a short length of time before being hired. The lead keeper told me that I was doing a good job and explicitly asked if I would like to work there.

    But the owner could probably see that I was going to stick around whether they hired me or not--so decided not to. That way they got free labour and could always string me along with the "Oh just volunteer a bit longer and we'll hire you". I've volunteered at other places without a problem because I knew that's exactly what it was. These people just told me it was one thing and it was actually another. I'm not arguing that zoos should try and suit the volunteer's lifestyle. : / I was merely offering a caveat to the OP about what can happen if you volunteer at a small place that is really looking for free labour and they entice you with the promise of employment.

    This is also unethical because it puts you in a sort of mind game, like "If I put in more hours they'll think I'm more committed and have a better chance of hiring me". I know that this is a fine attitude to have otherwise, but if they give you positive feedback like, "Ohhh, you do a great job, wouldn't you like to work here? Let's see what we can do", it makes you want to be there more and more so they'll finally just give you the job. But they may be saying these things without any intention of making good on them.
     
    Last edited: 4 Mar 2013
  18. mrcriss

    mrcriss Well-Known Member

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    Reading this with interest, because although I never volunteered at a zoo (I don't work for free:D), we're considering starting a volunteer programme at my work.

    I also used to work at Banham, and had volunteers working with me. They were always really pushed for time at that zoo, due to the small numbers of staff....although it looks to me like they have a load more staff now than when I worked there.

    Now I'm the stockman at a sixth form college that has an animal management course that has an ever growing collection of exotic, farm and domestic animals. We're applying for our zoo license so that we can get even bigger.

    So what I'm saying is, remember that there are other (possibly less stressful) avenues to get volunteer experience as collections are growing in colleges. We'll be taking on volunteers very soon.

    Quick question.....where do you look for volunteer positions available? We're going to advertise with one particular website (can't remember which one). So how did you guys go about getting your positions?

    Also, what expectations do you have from your internship? What hours do you expect to work? Are you put on a rota? Or is it literally a case of turning up when you have a spare day and have nothing else to do?

    Thanks for taking the time to answer any of my questions x
     
  19. mrcriss

    mrcriss Well-Known Member

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    Also (if you don't mind me asking), do volunteers expect to join in with the grafting? i.e. building enclosures, making pathways etc.

    Or do they just expect to play with the animals?

    Only asking because, as far as I can see, the grafting is just as valuable experience as the animal cuddling.:D
     
  20. Pootle

    Pootle Well-Known Member

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    I agree with mrcriss that there are several other avenues to look at to gain experience besides volunteering at a zoo. If there are no volunteer position at a zoo, then there is animal experience to be gained elsewhere for free. Just from the top of my head you could call an local rescue centres and ask to meet the owner or manager then face to face (better if possible) ask about volunteering for a few days. Veterinary centres may let you watch / clean quarters etc, for free for a few days. It is lambing season in the UK now and if you are near any farms then I reckon a few farmers would welcome some voluntary hours given to them. I helped out at a local farm several years back with lambing and despite it being hard work, it is very rewarding and you do learn a lot in a short time, possibly more than you would at a zoo in the same time. Dairy farmers may be willing to let you help out one or two days a week too, its worth asking.

    Once you have a little experience similar to the above, imagine how your chances of opening the door to a zoo job either paid or unpaid are increased compared to someone without any experience at all. If you just apply to zoos and get rejected then someone who decides to do something similar to the above will have an advantage over you.