Perth Zoo traineeship program redefines approach to learning

Perth Zoo traineeship program redefines approach to learning
(From left) Carly Waterfield, State Manager, ASA, Aaron Semmes, VET Coordinator, Clontarf Aboriginal College, Winnie, Perth Zoo trainee and Clare McGuirk, HR and Safety Officer, Perth Zoo

In the world of vocational education and training, many workplace programs offer a wide array of opportunities and fantastic career prospects. Still, only a few have the same charm as the traineeship program at Perth Zoo where culture and biodiversity unite.

Launched over a year ago, the Perth Zoo traineeship program  supports wildlife conservation and has paved the way for aspiring Aboriginal youth to find their foothold in the field of wildlife conservation and management.

To celebrate the boundless possibilities the program has to offer, ASA caught up with trainee Winnie and stakeholders of the program including Shoreline, Perth Zoo and the Clontarf Aboriginal College and delved into the lessons learned behind their collaboration, as they carve out the program’s future.

Student following dream to work in nature

Clontarf Aboriginal College student Winnie, Perth, is among the latest cohort thriving in the program.

“I knew I wanted to be a part of [the program]. And it was just such a great opportunity to do it,” she says.

Winnie started her traineeship in early 2024 alongside a Certificate II qualification in Conservation and Ecosystems Management.

The program secured a successful start in its inaugural year which saw two students completing the traineeship in just nine months.

“When I’m older, I want to move to Shark Bay and do tours,” says Winnie.

Wanting to follow in her father’s footsteps, she says: “I would like to learn more about the land and animals so that I can be better when I become a tour guide.”

Working once a week at Perth Zoo, Winnie has taken on various responsibilities, from taking kids to see an animal and helping them explore nature, to office duty and mail runs.

She says the most enjoyable part of her job, aside from working with animals, is “getting to know everybody, especially the little kids”.

Traineeships provide students direction: Shoreline

A partnership between the Perth Zoo and the Clontarf Aboriginal College, supported by Shoreline and ASA, the program was 18 months in the making, and it counts on the support from multiple stakeholders.

“Traineeships deliver great structure and direction for students but require multiple stakeholders to engage and deliver the outcomes,” says James Ryan, Shoreline Managing Director.

“Students were not engaging with traditional curriculums, with low attendance and high dropout rate.

“A traineeship is a perfect way to connect educational relevance with local long-term employment opportunities.”

Ryan says the program has evolved to show the importance of “creating flexible traineeship programs that work for the trainee, not for an institution or organisation” to tackle the limitations of mainstream educational approaches and course delivery options.

By “not taking no for an answer” and doing things differently, the program has proven the success of a student-centred approach, which is what makes the program stand out.

Program helps students overcome challenges: Exmouth TAFE

Liz Gardner, Lecturer and Gascoyne Head of Programs at Central Regional TAFE’s Exmouth Campus says “Perth Zoo sets a fantastic example” in demonstrating the difference in outcome when matching students with the right employer.

Gardner says that the “wonderful partnership” among stakeholders is key to overcome the challenges of delivering the TAFE learning component remotely.

She is also hoping to organise visits for the trainees to travel to Exmouth for a different learning experience in the future.

Perth Zoo trainee Winnie

Supporting students to become ‘job ready’: Perth Zoo

For Clare McGuirk, HR and Safety Officer at Perth Zoo, the program is also about “ensuring students are getting value from it”, as she reflects on the journey.

“It’s making sure that they enjoy their time with us and getting them work ready,” she says.

“We spend a lot of time talking to the kids and finding out what they’re learning.

“Liz from TAFE has also helped us with that as well. Just making sure we can try and patch any gaps up.”

McGuirk says that the zoo staff is learning from the students, too.

“It’s that two-way conversation that we have, like what I’ve learned so much from all of them just about where they come from, and what they do and their culture and that I would never have had that opportunity,” she says.

McGuirk is thrilled to see the young trainees honing their skills through the program.

“We can definitely see changes in them, and their confidence is growing as well.”

Empowering students with life-long skills: Clontarf Aboriginal College

“The program itself is quite significant because it blends different cultures and languages into one area,” says Aaron Semmes, VET Coordinator at Clontarf Aboriginal College

He says it is also “inspiring” as trainees are eager to apply skills learnt in a real-life work environment.

“Can I get a job at the zoo? It’s sort of a momentum now that it’s inspiring kids to look for work and the next step,” Semmens says.

The students are developing personal skills which they can use elsewhere.

“It’s a powerful program. What the kids are learning through pursuing all these is empowering them from life.”

The Perth Zoo traineeship program marked one-year anniversary in November 2023, and it remains clear of its mission. Through mentorship, support and student-centred learning, the program continues to empower Aboriginal youth with knowledge and job ready skills, enhancing their future employment prospects, while also deepening our understanding of Aboriginal culture and connection to Country.

Powered by CCIWA, Apprenticeship Support Australia (ASA), can facilitate employment, manage training and offer support and advice to companies seeking apprentices to boost their workforce. Contact ASA at [email protected] or phone 1300 363 831. 

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