Spotlight on our Keeper and Aquarist Apprenticeship (Level 3)

An apprenticeship is a great way for school leavers or adults, to gain invaluable work experience alongside studying for a new qualification.

As an apprentice you are given the opportunity to earn while you learn through hands-on training, enabling you to gain confidence in the working environment of the industry you wish to start a new career in.

Why should I study the Keeper and Aquarist Apprenticeship (Level 3) at Capel Manor College?

Capel Manor College is London’s environmental college with five campuses across London. The College was the first training provider to deliver the keeper and aquarist apprenticeship.

The course criteria has been designed by a trailblazer group of over 30 zoos including ZSL, Colchester Zoo, Chester Zoo, Woburn Safari Park, and Yorkshire Wildlife Park to name a few. Therefore, as an apprentice, you will develop the skills, behaviours, and knowledge that current employers expect a modern-day keeper to have.

What does the Keeper and Aquarist Apprenticeship (Level 3) involve?

Our monthly classes are held online, and your assessor will also come to visit you every 8-12 weeks at work.

The apprenticeship lasts 24 months, plus time for assessment. Whilst on the course, apprentices will need to produce a portfolio of their assignments, and keep a log of the training that they have received. The apprenticeship covers a broad range of topics such as zoology, conservation, animal training, and population management. At the end of their studies, apprentices will complete an end point assessment exam which includes a multiple choice test, interview style professional discussion, and practical observations.

For an employer, hiring an apprentice will involve supporting your apprentice throughout their studies as well as giving them a minimum of six hours of off the job training each week. This includes anything new that they learn at work, time spent on their portfolio, and attending college classes. If your organisation has a payroll budget of over £3 million, you will already pay towards the apprenticeship levy, and by hiring an apprentice you will be able to spend that money on training your own staff. For organisations with lower budgets, the government pays for 95% of the training costs, so the fee will be just £350.

What do recent keeper and aquarist apprentices say about their experiences?

Jennifer Crouchman recently passed her apprenticeship with distinction, and also won our Capel Manor College’s Apprentice of the Year award, she shares:

“My apprenticeship journey started in 2021 upon being enrolled with Capel Manor College, through my employer Colchester Zoo. I was a bit nervous about going back to college at the age of 28 but I was soon back in the swing of things with the support of my amazing lecturers Lauren and Vanda. The blend of online lectures and learning on the job made the course very interesting and relevant.

While I was training my colleagues helped me by photographing me carrying out daily tasks, so I have many lovely pictures of my zoo journey, which were used as evidence in the coursework for my portfolio. The online lectures were conducted in small groups, which was nice as it allowed us to get to network with keepers from other zoos, and allowed us to work together as well as giving us a safe space to share our opinions.

Though there were challenges, the backing and encouragement that I received from Lauren, my main lecturer helped me to complete my journey and have a laugh while doing so.

Apprentice Zookeeper caring for animals

The apprenticeship has not only given me the tools to enhance my work performance, but it has allowed me to make new friends. I have also had the opportunity to get involved in other sections at the zoo, which has allowed me to further my knowledge and understanding of some of the topics covered by the apprenticeship.

When it came to the end point assessment, I was nervous, but Lauren was there to support and help me. The visits made throughout the year and our mock exams aided me when the big day came. Having support from Lauren and from Lee, the Senior Conservation Educator, at Colchester Zoo, was really invaluable and I wouldn’t have been able to get my distinction without their constant support. Overall, my journey involved hard work but was enjoyable and has helped me to become a better keeper.”

Mark Wallington, is currently studying the apprenticeship, and won the Friends of Capel Manor College cup for best full-time student, he shares:

“I started my apprenticeship at the ripe old age of 35 and a small part of me wondered if I was too old to start a new career. Thankfully, it was the best decision I could have made. The course has been the perfect way for me to build the knowledge, skills and behaviours I will need to qualify as a zookeeper and aquarist. The blend between the practical aspects of the course working at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo and the theoretical lessons I have online with Capel Manor College were a nicely matched system to provide the best training and learning I could have hoped for.

My teacher at the College, Lauren, has been fantastic (and as an ex teacher I can say that with experience). Her lessons are informative, differentiated and lessons I actually look forward to! You learn a wide range of important and necessary topics from ‘Zoo History’ through to ‘Biosecurity’ and ‘Conservation’ to name but a few. Lauren is also always at the end of the phone or email with any questions I might have, and has given me lots of confidence with her ongoing support and commitment.

At Whipsnade Zoo, as an apprentice, we get to move sections every six months and this is something I would encourage all zoos to consider. It has allowed me to experience a range of different taxonomy, helping me to learn more skills, and to hopefully become a better well-rounded keeper.

The apprenticeship involves completing coursework, as well as working with and learning from the zoo keepers at the zoo, and staff are always fair and understanding if I do need time to work on college projects. ZSL’s in-house workshops have been another great learning platform to further my education and (I hope) to become a more employable member of staff in the future.

I would encourage anyone and everyone who would like a career in zookeeping to apply for this apprenticeship course. You must be organised and plan your time accordingly with zoo and college work. However, as long as you can do this and aim to meet deadlines, work is manageable and hopefully, like me, you will enjoy the learning process. An apprenticeship is a brilliant way to learn the practical and theoretical skills you will need to succeed in this career, and I am very happy I made this decision.”

Find out more

If you are interested in finding out more about this apprenticeship, full details can be found here.

You can also find out more about all of Capel Manor College’s apprenticeships here.