Question – I am currently working on an engineering degree with a focus on Robotics and Controls. I have always wanted to get into the theme park industry, especially on the show controls side. From the research I’ve been doing on the theme park industry, I can tell that Birket Engineering is one of the leaders in the industry. Do you have any advice for a young engineer trying to break into the industry?

Your biggest challenges are:

  1. intense competition – lots of engineering students want to be theme park attraction engineers, and
  2. the growth in the themed entertainment industry is outside of the United States for the foreseeable future.

These are some questions we might ask of you:

  1. Have you had opportunities for practical application of your technical knowledge, even if it was at home or before college?
  2. What engineering co-op/intern experience have you had?
  3. What electrical and electronics classes have you had? Were you a good student?
  4. Did you go to engineering school because you really like engineering, or because you thought it was a path to a good job?
  5. What software experience have you had? Is your interest more in software or hardware design?
  6. Ever encountered a PLC or have any idea what you’d do with one?
  7. Have you traveled outside of the United States?
  8. Do you speak any foreign languages?
  9. What would you think about working outside of the U.S.?

You should become a member of the TEA NextGen group and attend TEA events as a way to get to know people in the industry. The members are students who are aggressive about finding work in the theme park business. If you are not a member, you will be in line behind those who are. You may also wish to attend IAAPA. It is in Orlando every November and in a major Asian city every June or July. Generally the younger engineers now come to us by building relationships with our existing employees through the TEA functions and sometimes by meeting us at IAAPA. If we then offer them a summer intern position that works out well, the door often opens to a full time offer.

Companies like ours that support theme parks will always be working on one or two new attractions at an existing theme park in the U.S., but the bigger volume of our work is overseas, particularly in Asia, building whole new theme parks. That figures into our hiring decisions. There are plenty of graduating engineers in countries like China. To be competitive delivering theme park attractions in China, we have to hire local Chinese engineers over U.S. engineers who must be relocated overseas at great expense. If we don’t hire in China, our U.S. business will struggle to be competitive, which prevents us from growing our business and doesn’t help anyone. Our overseas offices are growing faster than our U.S. office. If we keep our overseas offices growing, we believe that we can also grow our U.S. office, but perhaps more to support product development than the steady level of new attraction development in the U.S.

Companies in the themed entertainment business generally like to hire people who demonstrate a real passion for the theme park business. That is because this can be difficult work. After a few months away from your family in a country that serves food you may not like, working to commission a ride or show for an unappreciative customer, on the the third shift, on a muddy and dirty construction site – you might decide to give up if you don’t really have a passion for this kind of work.