The “happiest place on Earth” is expected to become more crowded than ever in 2022.
According to financial services firm UBS, pent-up demand will lead to record attendance at Disneyland and other Disney theme parks in 2022 after two years of attendance caps mandated by health and safety concerns during the pandemic. The outlook is improving for theme parks across the country as they prepare to launch new attractions, many of which will feature augmented and virtual reality components.
Driving the innovation that keeps families returning to their favorite theme parks are teams of engineers who design, build, and maintain rides and other attractions to ensure patrons have a safe and enjoyable experience. Theme park engineering jobs encompass all aspects of engineering, requiring skills in mechanical, structural, electrical, design, and other engineering specialties.
The outlook for theme park engineering jobs is powered by competition in the industry to devise attractions that deliver unique and unprecedented thrills and excitement for children and adults alike. Engineers employed by theme parks are limited only by their imaginations. A Master of Science in Engineering (MSE) degree helps prepare engineers for exciting careers in the theme park industry.
What Does a Theme Park Engineer Do?
Theme park engineers take on a range of responsibilities, from complete theme design projects to planning, building, and maintaining accessory and specialty structures such as maintenance sheds and queueing areas for riders. In some instances, theme park engineering jobs are taken on a project basis, while other engineers are employed full time by the park. Projects for parks generally last about 18 months, but after building a professional network, engineers typically transition to new projects quickly.
The attractions that most people associate with theme parks are roller coasters, which continue to become faster, longer, and more thrilling with each new design. Engineering a roller coaster brings together many engineering disciplines, including mechanical engineering to design, implement, and maintain the ride and ensure it is safe, and structural engineering to guarantee the attraction can withstand the elements.
As technology advances, amusement park rides are evolving to incorporate robotics, augmented and virtual reality, animatronics, and other special effects. For example, the Journey of Water walk-through attraction opening at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center in 2022, inspired by the movie “Moana,” allows visitors to interact with “magical, living water,” according to the park.
What Types of Theme Park Engineer Jobs Are Available?
Theme park engineer jobs range from the traditional (roller coaster engineer, control systems engineer, structural designer) to the futuristic (building animatronic robots and drones, designing virtual reality environments). These are among the positions that theme park engineers may qualify for:
- Audio/visual engineers design, install, and operate the audio, video, and lighting for live events, including sound mixing, graphics coordination, spotlights, and video playback.
- Control systems engineers develop and implement the hardware and software systems that control the operation of various theme park attractions and park infrastructure.
- Electrical designers and engineers create and maintain the electrical systems that power theme park attractions and other operations of the business.
- Industrial designers and engineers work on a range of products from conception through implementation to meet functional, aesthetic, cost, and usability requirements.
- Information technology engineers/software programmers design, test, install, maintain, and update the software that keeps attractions and other park operations running smoothly.
- Mechanical designers and engineers create the mechanical devices used in equipment of all types and sizes, from circuit boards to plumbing and heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems.
- Quality control inspectors and engineers look for defects and variations from specifications in materials and products, including mechanical and electrical equipment.
- Ride and show engineers manage all aspects of a theme park attraction from conception to maintenance, focusing on the safety and enjoyment of riders and attendees.
- Special effects engineers deliver the magic that dazzles theme park attendees by planning and implementing rides and simulations that turn a ride into a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
- Structural designers and engineers ensure that a theme park’s attractions and all other structures comply with all specifications and regulations.
In addition to engineering jobs offered by theme parks, many engineering firms specialize in providing services to amusement parks in various regions or at locations around the world. For example, Dynamic Attractions has created dark rides, immersive environments, and other attractions for Disney and Universal theme parks in the U.S. as well as parks in Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
Theme Park Engineer Salaries and Job Outlook
Theme park engineer salaries are comparable to those for other industrial and mechanical engineering positions. The employment site Zippia estimates that roller coaster engineers earn an average annual salary of about $79,000, which is slightly more than the average salary for industrial engineers (estimated at approximately $73,000 annually) and mechanical engineers (about $72,000 annually).
According to figures compiled by the recruiting site ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary for theme park engineers is about $54,000 in a range from $15,500 to $136,500. Among the U.S. cities where theme park engineers have the highest salaries are San Francisco, Washington, Los Angeles, and Jersey City, New Jersey.
A report cited by Tourism International forecasts moderate growth for theme park revenue through 2025 as the industry emphasizes robotics and other technology-driven innovations that depend on the work of engineers in many disciplines. These include electrical engineering (power systems), environmental engineering, mechanical engineering, and data science.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts that the number of jobs for all recreation workers will increase by 16% between 2020 and 2030, which is much faster than the average growth projected for all occupations. Similarly, the BLS estimates that employment of industrial engineers will jump by 14% from 2020 to 2030, and jobs for mechanical engineers will grow by 7% in the period.
Building Dreams as a Theme Park Engineer
Theme parks are preparing for a surge in visitors as travel restrictions are eased and people are once again able to visit their favorite destinations. Jobs for theme park engineers will get a boost from a new generation of technology-driven rides and attractions that amaze and amuse children of all ages. Programs such as the University of California, Riverside’s online Master of Science in Engineering degree program provide a solid foundation for many different careers at theme parks and other areas of the entertainment industry.
Find out more about how the school’s online MSE program prepares engineers for a career of technical mastery and magical innovation.