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Apprenticeships in animal care: insights from our Biological Support Unit team

Apprenticeships in animal care: insights from our Biological Support Unit team

Apprenticeships in animal care: insights from our Biological Support Unit team

Our Biological Support Unit is responsible for caring for mice used in the Institute鈥檚 research. Their team of technicians and specialists perform daily husbandry duties and provide essential services to the facility.

We sat down the staff from our Biological Support Unit (BSU) to talk about their experiences as mentors and as apprentices.


Neave

What would you do if your neighbour told you they know the perfect job for you? That鈥檚 what happened to Neave, who recently finished her apprenticeship in the Institute鈥檚 Biological Support Unit.

I always liked animals, and so about a year ago when my neighbour said I should do an apprenticeship in animal care, I was keen! To be honest, like a lot of people I didn鈥檛 know that this was an industry that existed, I wanted to be a vet first. I didn鈥檛 like the idea of going to university, so this way I could earn some money, and get the skills I needed to get a job working with animals.

The highlight for me has been finishing, the apprenticeship is a lot of hard work, from the hands-on learning to the essays. Apart from that, it was when my mentor Darren came back from three months of parental leave 鈥 we get along really well so it was nice to return to the same routine.

I would definitely recommend that people consider an apprenticeship. What I realised when I started here is that the course is a lot more detailed, with weeks at a time at different facilities. This means when you get to the end of your year, you have an understanding of the bigger picture and other possibilities within the industry.

Neave is staying on as a Experienced Animal Technician at the Institute and said that she can see herself stepping into Darren鈥檚 shoes to mentor apprentices in the future.


Darren

Darren has been at the Institute for five years, first as a technician and now as a supervisor. For the last two years he has mentored apprentices.

Since becoming a supervisor I discovered that I enjoyed training other people, so it seemed natural to become a mentor. It is really satisfying to see someone gain skills, grow as a person, and you see them enjoy their role! Of course, there is the self-serving side which is that if you鈥檝e trained someone yourself, you end up with a great workforce.

There are a lot of meetings between apprentices and their mentors. Without the personal connection, the whole thing would be harder. Through the year long apprenticeship process you build up mutual respect and you really get to know each other. It鈥檚 fair to say that the connection is really important and so there鈥檚 always a moment of anxiety before you meet where you hope you鈥檒l gel with the new apprentice.


Tash

Before her apprenticeship, Tash studied zoology at university. Now that she has completed her apprenticeship, the next step is thinking about where she鈥檇 like to work.

One of the great things about the apprenticeship is that Agenda, the employer, will guarantee you a job afterwards. Right now I鈥檓 deciding where I鈥檇 like to work next. I鈥檝e got two offers to decide between, and it can be really tough! The other people in the BSU have been helpful in offering their advice, and even letting me know about jobs coming up elsewhere. I think I鈥檓 leaning towards a job that includes dissection, which I became interested in at university.

I couldn鈥檛 find a job related to zoology after my degree and hadn鈥檛 thought about this career path. A difference I noticed was how much was expected in the essays, I was used to having to include a lot of detail but for my apprenticeship the standard was a bit lower. My brain said it would be like a masters, but actually it is more like a platform for starting your career.

Alongside the apprenticeship, you study for the Institute of Animal Technology level 2 diploma which is specific to lab mice and animal technology. This is pretty much essential for a career in this area, and so with some of the assignments overlapping with the apprenticeship, it has been a way of becoming a highly sought-after candidate for jobs.


Sarah

Sarah is also a mentor and has gained skills throughout her time working with apprentices and has advice for people taking on the role.

As a mentor, preparation is key, ensuring you are prepared with answers to questions they may have 鈥 some research beforehand on a subject can help ensure you are giving all key information and also improve your own knowledge of a subject! I have attended coaching training in the past and have a lot of experience over the years working with all different types of people.

Each person learns in a different way such as hands on training or reading guidance and can each benefit more from trying these and seeing what works for them. I enjoy training new and existing staff, its good way to get to know people better and also ensure they have all the relevant information they need to complete the work to a high standard.

It is nice to see just how much information the apprentices have learnt over their time at the Institute and how well our staff have done with training them. They come with no prior experience of laboratory animals and their care, and have finished as experienced animal technicians that could competently care for the animals and assist with the high level of service to the site as part of our team.