Guidance Section

What is the EPZQF?

The EPZQF is an outline of the key skills, knowledge, and competencies that professional zookeepers need to succeed in their role. The EPZQF is designed to be a living document, and the framework pages will be regularly updated to reflect the latest advances in the zookeeping profession. The EPZQF is not a formal qualification or diploma, but provides guidance on appropriate standards for professional zookeepers. For more information about how to achieve the levels, you can read Paths to Fulfilment.

It is widely accepted that high zookeeping standards are critically important in European zoos, and the framework we have created outlines ambitious and aspirational standards. We believe that these standards should be achievable for zoos in the European Union. For a more detailed explanation of the different levels and what they mean, you can read Framework Levels.

Framework Levels

The framework focuses on three competence levels for zookeepers, ‘Competent’, ‘Proficient’, and ‘Expert’. Reaching the Competent level is already a significant achievement, so zookeepers working at this level are demonstrating a good level of competence. The initial stages of learning are not covered by the EPZQF, but new zookeepers will need to transition through beginning and improving stages before reaching our Competent level.

What should be expected from zookeepers working at different levels?
Competent – zookeepers working at a ‘Competent’ level should demonstrate appropriate levels of knowledge and skills, as well as appropriate attitudes and values, to complete tasks assigned to them by team leaders or managers. Fully trained zookeepers (whether training is via a formal qualification or on the job) should be able to work at a Competent level in all or almost all of the framework topics.

Proficient – zookeepers working at a ‘Proficient’ level should demonstrate a high level of knowledge and skills, as well as appropriate attitudes and values that allow them to work with more autonomy. Zookeepers working at this level should be able to use their own initiative to problem-solve minor issues that they encounter during their usual working routine. Zookeepers working at a Proficient level may have some responsibility for supervising or training other staff. Zookeepers who are advancing in their careers should be able to work at a Proficient level in several framework topics according to their interests and aptitudes.

Expert – zookeepers working at an ‘Expert’ level should demonstrate the highest level of knowledge and skills, as well as appropriate attitudes and values that allow them to work with a high degree of autonomy. Zookeepers working at an Expert level should be able to use their initiative and experience to think strategically, anticipate problems, and plan for the future. Zookeepers working at an Expert level are likely to have some responsibility for supervising and training other staff in their areas of expertise, and may have a leadership role such as Team Manager. Zookeepers with several years of experience should be able to work at an Expert level in a small number of framework topics according to their interests and aptitudes, but it is not realistic to expect zookeepers to be able to achieve this highest level across a wide range of topics.

The EPZQF levels in an EU context
In addition to ensuring universally high standards of zookeeping, another goal of the EPZQF is to increase mobility and allow zookeepers to easily move from one EU country to another. Having a clear indication of what skills are expected and their individual level of achievement will allow zookeepers to find work in another country more easily. The EPZQF can also assist zoos that want to recruit the most suitable staff from within the EU, regardless of whether their training is formal, informal, or both. In addition, zookeepers leaving the profession will be more able to identify their transferable skills that will be useful in other careers.

To make comparisons of different levels of skills and experience easier, the EPZQF is calibrated to the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), a common European reference framework created to make qualifications more comparable across all EU Member States. The EQF has eight different levels, which can be linked to qualifications but which ultimately are used to describe tasks in terms of complexity and responsibility, taking into account the knowledge and skills needed to complete them successfully.

The EPZQF levels aim to be equivalent to the following EQF levels:
Competent – EQF level 2-3
Proficient – EQF level 3-4
Expert – EQF level 4-5

The EPZQF also aims to be compatible with European Credit system for Vocational and Educational Training (ECVET) principles so it can be applied in a formal VET context.

Paths to Fulfilment

In line with ECVET principles, the EPZQF recognises that there are many possible routes for zookeepers to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to gain competence. Some zookeepers may be able to achieve competence in many areas by completing a formal accredited qualification, others may build their competence through shorter courses, on the job training, or through self-guided learning. The EPZQF acknowledges all of these routes and more as valid paths to fulfilment.

We have listed some of the more common paths to fulfilment below, but this list is not exhaustive and other valid paths are possible.

Formal accredited qualifications – a qualification provided by an accredited educational institution, which may or may not include practical work experience and typically requires at least one year of study to complete (e.g. DMZAA)

Short courses – formal training courses or workshops which may or may not be accredited. These can be external or in-house. Workshops usually include a practical component. Short courses usually last from one to seven days.

On the job training – this can be formal, with a standardised structure and training workshops and seminars; or informal consisting of job shadowing, verbal inductions and coaching from supervisors and experienced colleagues.

Peer-based learning – zookeepers can learn a lot from different colleagues, not just supervisors. Peer-based learning can be combined effectively with formal training opportunities, allowing one person to attend a course and then share their learning with many colleagues. Peer-based learning can be planned and structured (e.g. through staff meetings or zookeeper groups) or informal (e.g. discussing and sharing best practice during normal daily work).

Self-guided learning – this requires zookeepers to take some initiative to assess their own learning needs and find ways to meet them. It can involve reading, online research and training courses, and participation in meetings. Self-guided learning is a valuable tool, and zoos should encourage zookeepers by providing sufficient time and support for self-guided learning.

Where suitable training opportunities have been identified, they are listed under the individual framework topics. As a second phase of the project, the project partners are developing three online courses which will cover some of the framework topics (these will be available by September 2018). These can be used by zoos and educational institutions as examples of how to use the EPZQF to develop training resources. The project partners are also completing a benchmarking exercise, which maps existing qualifications onto the framework. For more information about this, please visit the Benchmarking page.

How can I use the EPZQF?

We have identified three main user groups for the framework, who can choose to use the framework in different ways. The EPZQF is designed to be flexible and have multiple applications.

The three main user groups are:
Individuals – zookeepers and aspiring zookeepers
Institutions employing zookeepers – zoos, aquariums, etc.
Institutions training zookeepers – schools, colleges, governments, etc.

An individual can map their skills onto the framework, and identify any gaps in their current skillset. These individual maps can be used to plan future training, as a supplement to a job application, or as a tool to support creation of a Professional Development Plan.

Institutions employing zookeepers
These institutions can use the framework to develop or redevelop comprehensive in-house training plans, as a tool to compare job applicants, or as part of their individual staff evaluations.

Institutions training zookeepers
These institutions can use the framework to review their existing training and qualifications, and to make changes and improvements as needed. They can also use the framework to create new qualifications and, at a government level, use the framework to create or revise regional or national standards for zookeepers. The EPZQF can also be used to support recognising zookeeper as a professional occupation at a national level.