TLPD Industry Insight placement: Amber Wagstaffe

Amber Wagstaffe is the Industry Placement Co-ordinator for Land Based Industries at Abingdon and Witney College. As part of the preparations for delivering the Health and Science T Level from September 2021, Amber completed an Industry Insight placement at Crocodiles of the World. The placements are part of the T Level Professional Development support offer to provide opportunities for professional updating for teachers, that is industry relevant and that facilitates knowledge transfer and professional exchange.

What were your key objectives for going on a staff placement in industry?
I wanted to gain an understanding of the day-to-day work that my students would be undertaking, including any limitations of working in a high-risk zoo environment. Understanding the behaviour required by employees, so that we can suitably prepare students by developing the most appropriate employability skills for the role, was also an important objective.

Tell us about your experience and the highlights from the placement
The staff were vastly knowledgeable, and it was fascinating to learn so much about the range of species kept at the zoo. I met with the Education Officer and shadowed a number of zoo-keepers which provided me with a full picture of how the zoo runs on a daily basis. The highlights for me were working with the Galapagos tortoises, including bathing and feeding them. I also had the opportunity to feed and assist with weighing a Komodo dragon!

What did you value most about engaging with Crocodiles of the World?
As I have no background in this industry, the Industry Insight Placement has been very worthwhile in demonstrating to me what skills and knowledge are required by the students. The opportunity to experience a day in the life of a keeper and hear first-hand from the staff what skills are valued in the industry was incredibly useful. This is so important to ensure that we are appropriately preparing our students and can manage their expectations with regards to working in the zoo industry.

I had discussions with keepers about the limitations of the work that students can carry out, which will be useful when I discuss with students the requirements of their roles. Currently students seem to enter education with unrealistic expectations of what it will be like to work in a zoo environment, so it is very useful to know exactly what they will and will not be involved in.

What has been the impact on you, your colleagues and organisation?
My discussions with keepers gave me an insight into the skills and knowledge required of our students in the zoo sector – this information has been passed onto colleagues so that we can embed it into our curriculum and ensure our learners are best prepared for securing placements and work in the industry. Areas of practical skills that need improvement have been passed onto the Curriculum Manager, which means that we can invest in areas that require further resources and information can be passed onto instructors so they can focus their teaching in these areas and stretch and challenge learners. The steps we are implementing to improve our Industry Placement process will make the transition to T Levels smoother.

How will this positively impact on future T Level learners?
I have a better understanding of the zoo environment so I can better inform learners who wish to enter this industry. The placement allowed us to continue to build on our working relationships with employers, by meeting with keepers and listening to their ideas. This should help to ensure a positive long-term relationship with the zoo, so that many future students can benefit from the opportunity of undertaking a placement at Crocodiles of the World.

I also gained an understanding of the gaps in our students’ skills/knowledge. For example, keepers commented that many students come on industry placements and they are not willing to prepare certain food stuffs (dead animals and live insects) which is a vital part of the role of a keeper. We can now encourage more practice of this in the student’s practical sessions for those students who wish to go into the zoo industry but are not confident in this area. Employers also commented that students were generally lacking developed employability skills, so more focus on the importance of building on these skills during T Level Industry Placement preparation will be required, such as students being encouraged to read around the subject and keep up to date with current developments in the sector. This field is incredibly competitive, so it is important that students realise the level of commitment they need to demonstrate so that they can stand out from the crowd.