What do you need to design and maintain rides?

Air at Alton TowersWith the news this week of Alton Towers teaming up with the Staffordshire University to offer a degree setting imaginations racing, we take a look at how you might be able to become intricately involved with theme park rides.

It is often a question that was – and probably still is in his numerous emails received from enthusiasts – put to legendary ride designer John Wardley: “How do I become a ride designer?”

A degree would certainly help, however the one being offered in Staffordshire is one of management – effectively a specific business studies degree involving cash flow, customer satisfaction, profit, loss and all the other ins and outs of a top desk job.

But for the people that want to make virtual creations dreamed up on No Limits and Rollercoaster Tycoon into reality, what options are there?

Degrees

A degree in mechanical engineering would certainly not do you any harm.

If you have reasonable grades at A level then you may be able to begin a Bachelor’s Degree (BEng) immediately.

Alternatively, you could take a lower qualification to begin with, perhaps a Higher National Certificate (HNC) or foundation degree (FdEng) could be pursued.

Degrees can take years and thousands of pounds to obtain

Degrees can take years and thousands of pounds to obtain

The higher-level Master’s (MEng) and Doctorate (PhD) qualifications would really set you apart, however as with all higher-level education – the commitment can be huge financially (particularly for the British) and mentally.

With degrees in hand, you can then begin bombarding manufacturers and asking for a graduate training role and with a touch of luck you may be offered something.

Is a degree necessary?

To be a respected engineer in any field, most people would say that you need a degree. However it is possible to become a professional registered engineer without a degree.

The Engineering Council in the UK keeps register of technicians and engineers.

You need to join an engineering institution and apply for registration by them. There are costs involved and the process can be time consuming.

It is also worth highlighting that becoming degree-qualified and/or professionally registered, won’t automatically make the rollercoaster industry open its arms to you.

The situation is compounded by the fact that there are no dedicated manufacturers of rollercoasters in the UK, and indeed very few making rides in general.

The IMechE is one of the world's largest engineering institutions

The IMechE is one of the world’s largest engineering institutions

However if you are interested in mechanical engineering, you can apply to become an Affiliate of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) for £35 and if you are without qualifications, this is a good place to start.

Also consider if you would be happy maintaining – as opposed to designing – rides, perhaps becoming a reliability and maintenance engineer at a theme park.

The wages are around the average UK salary, around £28,000 for major parks and sometimes less for smaller independent ones.

Unfortunately there is a finite number of theme parks and ride manufacturers in the world and the competition is tough.

With the money hardly life-changing, it is very much a dream job in terms of pure enjoyment and personal satisfaction – something which very few people have in their work.

Maybe this is one dream worth chasing.

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