10 Steps to Work in the Theme Park Industry
So You Want to Work in the Theme Park Industry?
The theme park industry is an incredibly exciting place to build a career. Having a hand in the creation of towering coasters, immersive experiences, and one-of-a-kind thrill rides is wonderfully rewarding. In fact, many of the designers, engineers, and creatives in the theme park industry are working in their dream jobs, fulfilling a lifelong goal of working on these amazing attractions that are enjoyed by millions of theme park goers annually. So what’s the secret of success – how do you get a job in the theme park industry?
Although there isn’t a surefire formula to scoring your dream job and designing roller coasters (or whatever it may be!), the Skyline team has some advice on what steps you should take to best position yourself to play an active role in the next generation of amusement rides and attractions. Here are 10 steps that we recommend you take to prepare yourself for an exciting future in the theme park industry.
1. Participate in Your School’s Theme Park Student Group
There has been an explosion in the number of theme park groups on college campuses over the past decade, with some of the top ones including the Theme Park Engineering Group at The Ohio State University, Theme Park Engineering and Design at Purdue University, and the Future Theme Park Leaders Association at University of Central Florida. These groups offer invaluable networking opportunities with industry professionals, engineering and other projects, challenging design competitions, and unique behind-the-scenes tours.
2. Establish a Club or Take On a Leadership Role
If your college does not have a theme park student group, make one! Even if establishing a student group on your campus may be difficult, you’re directly benefiting yourself and future students. Founding a theme park group at your college also demonstrates your drive and can-do attitude, valuable traits that future employers will notice. If you’re lucky enough that your school already has a theme park student group, pursue a leadership role in it. Different groups have different roles, but common ones include President, Vice President, and Treasurer.
3. Attend Industry Events
The annual IAAPA Expo in Orlando, Florida is a favorite among students and recent graduates, but there’s several other events that provide networking opportunities and possibly even real-life experience. This includes mixers and events from the Themed Entertainment Association, our own SKYnext event, and the ASTM F24 subconference is a must for engineering students.
This item cannot be stressed enough. Even if you’re not attending an event like the IAAPA Expo, network! Reach out to prospective employers on LinkedIn and similar, introducing yourself and scheduling a time to chat if possible. It’s okay to be nervous about putting yourself out there, but remember that almost all industry professionals were in your shoes at one point and most are happy to help the next generation of the theme park industry. Once you’ve had the chance to connect with someone, make sure to follow-up and stay in touch. When a company needs to hire new talent, you want your name to be at the top of their head. Someone who maintains a connection is much more likely to come to mind than someone who only interacted once.
5. Tackle Interesting, Challenging Projects
Your course load is likely very similar to most other students in the same major as you. It’s important to stand apart from others, and one of the best ways to do that is to take on interesting and challenging projects that are independent of your classes. This can be done through a student group or individually, provided that it gives you some great hands-on experience and allows for an interesting, impressive end product. Some recent examples we’ve seen shared by students on LinkedIn include a variety of 3D-printed projects, miniature animatronics, custom-built escape rooms, and automated roller coaster models. All these projects demonstrate a willingness to learn new skills outside of classes and stick with something through the end.
6. Stay on Top of Job Posting
The amusement industry can be incredibly versatile and a company’s need to hire can suddenly appear with little forewarning. In order to be aware of any job opportunities, bookmark hopeful employers’ websites and check their jobs pages often (for reference, ours is at SkylineAttractions.com/Careers). Also frequently check job boards – one of our favorites is the incredible ThemedEntertainmentJobs.com, a compilation of opportunities with themed entertainment companies across the industry.
7. Get Experience in Your Field, Even if it’s Outside the Industry
Experience in the theme park industry is invaluable, but don’t discount other opportunities. The skills and knowledge you’ll gain from these other roles can often transfer directly into themed entertainment jobs, plus they can give you a leg-up by offering a fresh perspective on how to tackle different problems. While working as a ride operator can be an incredibly fun and rewarding experience, we generally encourage future engineers to pursue engineering opportunities – even if outside the industry – over working in ride operations for several consecutive seasons.