A draft extract from soon to be published ebook on Working with Animals. Check this site to buy a copy when available.

Learning anything about animals will not only help you get a job, and experience; but it will more importantly, help you keep the job, progress in that job, and develop a sustainable career.
Getting qualified alone is never going to guarantee a sustainable career. Learning can come from doing formal courses or informal in house training within your job, training with an external agency, taking a course and so on

It is important to understand the differences between different types of courses; and to choose what you study according to what will help your career the most.

Foundation Courses
Some courses are designed to give you a comprehensive foundation in a subject. These courses should be preparing you for a lifelong career. They should enable you to understand the language used by people who work with animals; comprehend literature you encounter, and give you a capacity to grow and develop your knowledge and skills. A good foundation course might not prepare you to simply walk into a workplace and do a job; but it will put you in a position where you can learn much faster and better on the job, than anyone who does not have a foundation course behind them. (Examples are: Substantial 500+ hour certificates; 1000+ hour diplomas; or 3,000+ hour Degrees)

Skills Courses
These teach you how to do a particular job. They may allow you to enter a workplace and do a job without too much extra training; but they don’t give you the same foundation to grow and develop your career. (Examples are: Competency Based Training or CBT courses; and Practical Workshops).

Professional Development Courses
These are designed to expand the learning that started in a foundation course. They are frequently shorter than a foundation course; and should be undertaken for a purpose, most commonly to learn about something that will enhance your career. These courses would usually assume that the participant is working currently in the field that they are studying.

Post Graduate Courses  -These are similar to professional development; but they do not always have the same purpose. Post Graduate courses assume that participants have graduated in previous courses, and that they all have prior knowledge of the subject at a certain level. These courses don’t assume the participant is currently working in the field they are studying.

Some people make a mistake when preparing for a job or business, in thinking that they can achieve the same level of learning by reading books, as what can be achieved by undertaking a course.  Courses involve much more than gathering and reading information.

An effective animal course is holistic. It involves progressing through a sequence of different learning experiences about animals, that has been contrived by someone who understands both animals and how the mind learns. It requires the student to have “faith” in the school and teaching staff who are guiding them through those experiences. It requires the educator to monitor the learning progress, and interject when and if necessary. 

Training may involve in house training within your job, training with an external agency, taking a course and so on.  Some jobs will require people to continually update their training and knowledge, for example, some jobs will require a person to update their Continuing Professional Development points to keep their job.  For some people, this may involve short training courses, whilst for others it may involve taking courses that take several years to complete.  

Networking can impact upon your career just as much as any form of education. Neglect the importance of networking at your own peril.
Build up the contacts you have in industry. Get involved. Success often comes from who you know; just as much as what you know.
Join organisations such as agricultural societies, animal protection bodies, professional associations, pet clubs, or anything else to do with animals. Don’t just pay the fees and collect newsletters though. Get involved with one or more bodies. Meet like minded people and interact with them regularly.
Volunteer, get experience, attend seminars, meetings, shows/exhibitions; immerse yourself in relevant social media groups. Do all of these things; but in balance.  Too much of one thing and neglect of others, does not work.

Development is also important. Development is not quite the same as training, but does involve you improving on your existing skills and knowledge.  For example, Jay is a manager of an animal rescue service. Jean is her assistant manager. Jay wishes to be promoted and for Jean to take her place as manager there are some areas of management that Jean is not too skilled at.  Jay develops a development plan to ensure that Jean develops the skills and knowledge she needs to develop. For example, this may involve skills, such as chairing a meeting, taking notes, preparing a report, taking a staff development review, etc. All of these skills can be developed under Jay’s guidance and ensure that Jean develops the skills that she is currently lacking or needs to improve upon.

Other Work Experience
Gaining other work experience can also be beneficial to any career in different ways:

  • It indicates things to employers. Employers can see what you may have learned elsewhere, and whether there is a positive pattern in your career development. They can also see if you stay in a job for a long time or keep changing employment.
  • You can actually learn things, develop industry contacts and increase your awareness of the industry through experience.
  • Experience can help broaden your skills and knowledge; and that can increase your ability to adapt. Today’s world is changing faster than ever; and it is really import ant to be both prepared for change, and more capable of changing your career direction.

Different careers and work positions will have different requirements and encourage us to do different things. A veterinarian who provides routine services to farmers may require some different skills and personality traits to a vet working in a private practice dealing with pets.  

Voluntary work
Voluntary work is another way in which we can gain other work experience.  Often people do not have the time to do voluntary work, once their career gets going; but volunteering can also be a good way to get a career kick started when it is going nowhere.
There are many animal charities and public enterprises that are always looking for volunteers. Examples include:

  • Animal Rescue and Welfare Organisations
  • Zoos and Marine Parks (May have “Friends of the Zoo Organisations)
  • Events such as Pet Club Shows, Agricultural Shows, Equestrian Events,.

Ethical Guidelines/Codes of Conduct/Quality Assurance
Ethical guidelines, codes of conduct, quality assurance and so on can also give you useful knowledge on how you should perform within a work situation to ensure you are offering a good quality service to your clients/customers. Laws and Codes that are adhered to can vary from one country to another. The way in which farm animals are transported and slaughtered, for instance, may be very different from country to country. Become familiar with those relevant to your industry. These may change, so keep updated with any changes. 

Animal Watching
Silly as it may sound, you can learn a lot about animals by watching them. Observing behaviour can help you better understand how to manage behaviour; and observing anything out of the ordinary can be an excellent way of learning about health issues and how to detect them.