What Does it Take to Work for a Company Like AEI?
Aquatic LSS installation isn't complicated, but adjusting your lifestyle can be a major challenge.
"I’ve always wanted to do something like that."
"I was thinking about applying for a job with your company."
I hear those phrases a lot, and it never surprises me.
Most of the people are talented aquarists or life support operators. Talented enough to realize that, out of the aquarium building itself, there’s money to be made in design, engineering, and even contracting.
Installing aquariums offers the the added bonus of flexibility and variety, and the prospect of an improved work-life balance. Fatigued by the politics of animal care? Moving into contracting can be one of the most refreshing moves you make in your career.
Interestingly, though, AEI returns to the hiring process at the start of many of our jobs.
Why is that?
Because, while this career is uncomplicated, adjusting your lifestyle can be a major challenge.
Working under contracts means movement between peak times of active construction (getting paid) and down times during bids, transitions, and lulls (not getting paid).
But you don't have to let the appeal of eliminating routine become the dilemma of variability. Just consider these points before you make the leap:
WHAT DOES IT TAKE
1. Budgeting – We can not just ball out during the months we are getting paid. We have to keep in mind that when we buy that fancy new home theater system, our next project may not start for weeks, and we will want to be prepared for delays. Make sure you are buffering yourself.
2. Minimalism – Remember that fancy new home theater system we just bought? It might be out of date by the time we get back home to use it. Most of us just have come to terms with that. We can always bring it with us, but the hassle really isn't worth it. Cutting back on "extras" makes traveling so much easier. Leave the stuff at home. It will be there when the job is done.
3. Family Support – This is, for most of us, the hardest part. Aquarium construction can be in another town, state, even country. We may not be home for some events and holidays. It's just the nature of traveling for work and sticking to a project schedule. Without family support, this kind of work will not be possible.
4. Flexibility – This career complicates commitments to our gardens, bowling leagues, season tickets, and book clubs. It makes it more difficult to have pets, especially higher maintenance pets or exotics. On some jobs, we rent an entire house, which means roommates (which I actually consider a perk, but it still requires flexibility). Projects get delayed, start early, require night shifts, and can be demanding in general. Don't take it to heart, try to roll with the changes, and you will find yourself more prepared for change.
WHAT YOU GAIN
1. Travel – This is really the major perk: new cities to visit on every job! A month or two in Washington D.C... six months in Cairns, Australia... San Antonio, Guam, Panama, San Diego, so many incredible cities. "Most" weekends off leaves you plenty of time to enjoy the local pubs, restaurants, and activities.
2. Skill Development – With a few exceptions, no two aquariums are alike. As technology improves, the nuances of aquatic life support systems become more sophisticated. Instead of working at an aquarium with the same 20 year-old equipment, we get to install and commission some of the latest innovations in life support systems.
3. Work-Life Balance – This career pays well, giving you the ability to work less and enjoy life more. Projects can be a long commitment, but the time in-between jobs, belongs to us! We don't have to mentally count up sick days and vacation time: we just go on vacation.
4. Being Done – One of Nick's gripes about his old job as an aquarist? Never being done. The routine of algae wiping, food prepping, feeding, water changes... its a never ending cycle. As an LSS installer, we have tangible proof of a finished job, and then on to the next project, where we get to work on something entirely different. Mentally, it can make a big difference for your career-happiness.
5. Pride – There is no better feeling than looking at an aquarium and being able to say "we built that!" Or meeting the managers, curators, veterinarians, educators, and aquarists that bring a building to life with new animals, traditions, research, and a refreshed passion for conservation.
6. Team – When you work and live with your coworkers, you become another kind of family.