Animal care assistants look after the day-to-day care of animals, in a variety of different settings, under supervision. The work is carried out in places such as kennels and catteries, zoos, safari parks, animal welfare centres, farm parks, grooming establishments and veterinary hospitals.
Animal care assistants may have more direct contact with the animals than any other person within the organisation. It is therefore a very important role in the welfare of the animals.
The tasks are varied and may include:
There may be additional duties, such as carrying out checks on prospective new homes and sometimes giving advice to owners regarding the care of their animals.
Some aspects of the job may be unpleasant. The work involves cleaning out animal pens and cages. Some welfare centres will deal with very sick or neglected animals that may require euthanasia.
Animal care assistants typically work standard full-time hours of 35 to 40 hours a week. However, as the animals need to be cared for seven days a week at all hours of the day, a shift system for working is normally in place. This may include early starts, weekends, and bank holiday and evening working.
Conditions may be wet, cold, dirty, muddy, smelly, hot or humid. This role may also involve working outdoors in all types of weathers. Protective clothing may be provided by the employer.
Starting salaries are usually in line with the national minimum wage. Experienced animal care assistants may earn up to £13,000 or more. Top salaries can exceed £14,000 a year.
There are around 13,300 animal care businesses throughout the UK and, therefore, many employment opportunities. These include organisations such as Blue Cross, the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and the PDSA (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals).
Vacancies may occasionally be advertised in local newspapers and trade publications such as Teaching Dogs, and on websites such as www.animal-job.co.uk They are also advertised on the Pet Care Trust, PDSA and RSPCA websites.
There are no set academic requirements to become an animal care assistant, although some employers do ask for qualifications such as GCSE's (grades A*-C) or their equivalent. A genuine concern and real enthusiasm for the welfare of animals is essential, together with a willingness to learn about general animal care.
Previous experience of working with animals is valuable, either in paid employment or as a volunteer. Organisations such as the RPSCA, PDSA and Blue Cross may be able to offer information on volunteering opportunities.
There are a number of relevant courses including:
BTEC National Award, Certificate and Diploma in animal management.
Levels 1, 2 and 3 Award, Certificate and Diploma in work-based animal care.
Candidates should check specific entry requirements with individual institutions. Most of these study options are available on a full- and part-time basis.
It may be possible to enter this career through an Apprenticeship in animal care.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Diploma in environmental and land-based studies may be relevant for this area of work.
On-the-job training is given to new animal care assistants by other experienced staff.
There may also be opportunity to study for qualifications whilst employed.
These could include:
- Level 2 Certificate in small animal care
- Level 2 BTEC First Certificate and Diploma in animal care
Playworkers work with children and young people to provide a safe, exciting and fun space in which to play, socialise, try out new things or just spend quiet time. Working in teams, they may work with children ranging between the ages of four and sixteen, or with one particular age group.
The idea of freely chosen, self-directed play is integral to playwork and all playwork settings aim to encourage children and young people to decide and control the content and intent of their play by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons.
An animal care assistant should:
With relevant experience it may be possible to progress to a supervisory or management position.
There may also be opportunities to diversify into other areas, such as animal boarding, grooming or pet retail.
Pet Care Trust, Bedford Business Centre,
170 Mile Road, Bedford MK42 9TW
Tel: 01234 273933
PDSA, Whitechapel Way,
Priorslee, Telford TF2 9PQ
Tel: 01952 290999
RSPCA, Wilberforce Way, Southwater,
Horsham, West Sussex RH13 9RS
Tel: 0300 1234 555