Although I have only been coordinating the Youth Work Experience program for a little over a year, I can see the benefits of the program on a daily basis. Many of our volunteers and staff started out as Work Experience students, learning valuable skills to help prepare them for more senior positions at the Aquarium. Students in our Work Experience program, affectionately known to us as “wexers,” learn many useful skills that help prepare them for university, college, and the work force. Our program has been running for twenty years now, and we are proud to see our students grow into ocean champions, supporting the Aquarium’s mission to be Ocean Wise.
My first recruitment as the work experience coordinator was the Winter Break of 2015/16. I was blown away by the passion, enthusiasm, and dedication students had to our organization and the program. One of those students, Scott Wilkinson, stood out from the beginning. Articulate, composed, and eager to learn, Scott has gone on to become a staff member at the Aquarium. I had a chance to sit down and talk to him about his time as a work experience student and the transition he had when becoming a staff member.
“I originally chose the Aquarium to complete my Work Experience program because I wanted to learn more about marine biology, and I did. I learned a lot. However, I never anticipated that I would end up learning more about myself. I uncovered a passion for helping others, I improved upon my public speaking skills, and learned how to work within a large team. You needed to make sure you could cover for one another, communicate any concerns if you were confused, and learn to problem solve quickly.”
Scott had an extremely successful placement, and his supervisor encouraged him to apply for a paid position at the Aquarium as a Customer Service Ambassador (CSA) in the same department that he had volunteered in. In June 2016, he accepted the position and worked as a CSA during the winter and spring breaks as well. Then, this summer, he took on added responsibilities and became a Lead for the Customer Service Ambassadors.
Scott recalls that transition, saying “I was hesitant at first. I was working alongside wexers who were, on average, closer to my age than most of my coworkers. It was definitely a strange feeling. But I was also excited. I had a discussion with my manager about whether or not Leads should help the department’s Work Experience Coordinator, Kelsey, manage the students for our department. I was passionate about coordinating with the students this summer and was honoured when my manager agreed.”
Did Scott regret his decision to take on an extra workload? Not for a minute.
“It has been a lot of extra work for me. I have to make myself available throughout the day to answer any questions they may have, and meet with them frequently. But that’s not to say that supervising work experience students isn’t rewarding. Just last week, Kelsey and I received an email from a student who just completed a July placement. He went into extreme detail about how his experience at the Vancouver Aquarium has improved his life and equipped him with the skills necessary for his desired career. It was inspirational to hear that he had received just as much out of his placement as I had, and it was empowering to know I had helped to provide him with that experience.”
Scott continues to support the Visitor Experience students throughout their time with us this summer.
In 2016, the Vancouver Aquarium supported over 275 students in the Work Experience program alone. They contributed over 20,000 hours of volunteer service, and are an integral part of our volunteer program. I am looking forward to the next twenty years of this incredible program, and to meeting more inspiring students like Scott.
The Work Experience program is currently recruiting for fall semester placements. Please see our website for more details.
Interested in learning how our program runs? Join us for the 20th anniversary of the youth volunteer program on November 15th from 7 – 9pm. RSVP to [email protected]
Zoë Jackson Coordinator, Volunteer Services & Youth Programs and Scott Wilkinson, Customer Service Ambassador Lead.