The Indianapolis Zoo for 24 years has worked to create a more diverse staff as the entire zoological industry has tried to diversify.
For decades, about 75% of zookeepers have been white; 16% are Hispanic or Latino; 4% are Black.
It’s a well-documented challenge for the industry. And the Indianapolis Zoo has implemented new programs and partnerships to expose young people—especially minorities—to all the zoo industry has to offer in terms of careers by focusing on high school and college students.
The HR department in 2018 launched a life sciences training program. The paid program is for students in their senior year of college and graduates who are serious about a career with animal or plant conservation.
It starts with a 12-week paid internship in which students rotate through the zoo, spending time in different departments. Once that’s complete, students who have already graduated can be hired full time and spend a year in a training program to become a zookeeper or gardener.
While the training program is open to people of all backgrounds, the zoo has been intentional about reaching out to traditionally Black universities about the program, and about half of the 11 apprentices so far have been Black women.
Mary Jane Bennett, the zoo’s vice president of human resources and safety and security, said not all apprentices become trainees following their internship. Some choose to follow different career paths, including one who chose to go to veterinary school, citing the time spent at the zoo as inspiration.
“They get a good opportunity to take a look at what the zoo business is like and [whether it is] for them or not,” she said. Three of the 11 apprentices so far are now full-time zookeepers after completing their year as a trainee, and one will be offered a full-time
“That has been very successful,” Bennett said. “I’m really thrilled with that program.”
The zoo also works with high schools and universities to find interns, including Providence Cristo Rey High School and Martin University, both of which primarily serve minority students.
Since 2014, the zoo has welcomed two to five Providence Cristo Rey students each year to do a corporate work study during the school calendar. They spend part of their school days working in various departments, including marketing, life sciences, human resources, IT, education, and safety and security. The zoo has hosted 24 students altogether, including five who are participating this year.
And last year, the zoo piloted Martin University’s Martin WORKS program. The zoo hosted its first intern last year, who eventually moved out of state. Martin’s second intern will work with the zoo throughout this school year.•
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