Recruiting, Hiring, and Supporting a Happy & Diverse Workforce at Your Cultural Attraction


April 28, 2022 • Taylor Clark • ECHO Digital, ECHO Digital

Call it the Great Resignation, the Great Shuffle, the Big Quit, or the Great Discontent, they’re all indicators of an undeniable change in America’s relationship with work. As a community with almost 200,000 full-time jobs, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums require adaptive strategies for attracting, retaining, and supporting talented employees.

Thank you to Kassey Kampman, VP People Operations, SSA Group and Jason Stover, VP People & Culture, SSA Group for joining us in conversation around recruiting in a difficult job market, building a diverse workforce that aligns with your local community, and caring for staff through providing mental health resources.

Key Points:  

1. Partnerships Are a Pipeline for Diverse Staff 

Traditional methods of recruitment will largely produce traditional results, people from the same audiences with the same experiences, same backgrounds, the same motivations.  Kassey & Jason shared that their strategy has moved beyond announcing vacancies to developing and fostering partnerships with organizations that seek to identify mentorship and employment opportunities for their communities; they may be youth-focused, booster organizations, trade schools, re-entry to the workforce programs, etc.  

These key partnerships bring motivated candidates and audiences not already engaged.  This is a slower, deeper strategy to consider for both full- and part-time positions.  


2. A Changing Workforce Demands Flexibility 

Zoos & Aquariums have always demanded flexibility from their staff. “Must be available to work some holidays, weekends, and evenings” is in the fine print of almost every position description.  But, in today’s evolving workforce, Zoo & Aquarium staff are increasingly demanding flexibility from their work.  Kassey and Jason challenged us to think creatively about how to provide staff with flexibility and still meet organizational demands.  For example, the gig worker sector is growing.  Organizations like Uber, Grub Hub, TaskRabbit, Fiverr are booming.  Could gig workers be utilized to supplement staff for periods of peak demand?  Could part-time positions be structured differently to accommodate gig workers?  This not only fills essential roles but also provides an opportunity to form relationships with individuals who may advance to full-time employment.  Kassey also offered, what if we create hybrid roles that provide increased flexibility, such as three days of zookeeping and two days of administration or guest services that could be done from home or give a reprieve from physically demanding work?  How would that impact our workforce?   


3. Poach Talent by Being Awesome 

“In 2019, we interviewed them. In 2022, they interview us”, says Jason.  Zoos & Aquariums must be responsive to the needs and motivation of today’s workforce and be strategic in targeting talent.   

In the Dare to Lead Podcast episode “Why We’ll Never Be the Same Again (and Why It’s Time to Talk About It)”, Scott Sonenshein discussed the state of increased mortality awareness; a point when one realizes time is finite and considers whether their actions align with their purpose and values.  He notes that we have all been in a state of increased mortality awareness throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and a realignment of action to values is contributing to the change in America’s relationship with work.   

Effectively communicating the role of each position at a Zoo & Aquarium in achieving its mission, and meaning it, can be alluring to applicants in seek of purpose-driven work.  But beyond the mission and brand, Zoos & Aquariums should strive to generate creative and meaningful incentives; some leading hospitality organizations offer tuition reimbursements, buy-in or part ownership, performance related and/or paid time off bonuses, extra paid personal time for positions without the flexibility to work from home, and more.  What makes our organizations unique?  Why do people stay?  Zoos & Aquariums should ask themselves these questions and incorporate the answers into targeted recruiting. 


4. Invest in a Growth Mindset   

Keeping your best people is hard, yet essential for the long-term health of your organization.  In the great exodus from the global work force, and all too often Zoos & Aquariums, we are losing invaluable skills, expertise, and historical knowledge.  This inability to retain, enrich, and stimulate staff is doing immeasurable and untold damage to the future of our organizations, the collective Zoo & Aquarium community, and our ability to deliver on our missions of saving wild animals and wild places.  Investing in professional & personal development is essential to staff satisfaction and growth yet is one of the first things eliminated when budgets are tight.  Zoos & Aquariums should intentionally build a lattice framework of knowledge, growth, learning, and experiences that support staff in achieving their goals.  This may even begin by assisting staff in identifying those goals and fostering an organizational culture of growth.  Lean in by initiating a mentorship program, collaborating with other organizations to offer workshops and classes, endorsing and fiscally supporting participation in professional associations, and/or providing staff with a budget of professional development hours.


5. Promote Mental Health 

Caring for employee mental wellbeing isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s good for business.  Happy, healthy staff provide better care for their animals, their co-workers, and guests.  Provide leaders and managers with the training needed to recognize signs of crisis in their team members early and the resources to proactively connect anyone in need with support.  Our organizational leaders do not have to be the experts in providing care but serve an important role as first-responder in the relationships they hold with their team.