Billy Rutherford has long been interested in a career in the theme park industry, as a self-described “nerd” of the subject.
He is certainly on the road to fulling his dreams, as he studies Visitor Attraction and Resort Management at Staffordshire University.
The course – sometimes somewhat lazily dubbed “a degree in theme parks” – also sees students receive 20 weeks of placements at Alton Towers, who are a partner of the university course.
Despite his interests, Billy did not immediately start out on this road.
“I felt like I needed a change in my life,” the 20-year-old tells us.
“I studied media at a university local to me in Leeds; however, due to many reasons ranging from COVID-19 to the fact media is a subject I’ve studied since GCSE, I decided that I wanted something different.”
Interest in the industry
Billy says he first learned of the course a couple of years ago, and knew it was perfect for him to pursue.
“I’ve always had an interest in theme parks and the industry as a whole for as long as I can remember,” he says.
“The course also gave me a sense of new found independence, as I moved two-and-a-half hours away from home to start at Staffordshire University.”
The course – which sees students receive a foundation degree with the option of topping up to a full Bachelor of Arts – comes with a strong recommendation from Billy, who describes it as having a “real sense of community”.
“Often the year groups are relatively small, with the first year starting with only around eight people, to my year, which is home to 18 students including myself,” he says.
“It’s very easy to make friends and create a good support network.”
Billy also speaks highly of his lecturers, who he says are always “extremely supportive” and “deeply care” about students’ academic development.
But surely a big part of the appeal of the course was the student placements at the nearby Alton Towers Resort, we asked.
The work experience there is a “welcome bonus” and was a big selling point in the decision to enrol in the course, he admits.
“On these placements you get to work in a variety of departments,” Billy says.
“For me, I’ve worked in entertainments, housekeeping and also rides. Luckily, I’ve also managed to have a part time job there in the Guest Excellence department, which I love.
“Also, through these placements you get to create connections with people in the resort and also across Merlin Entertainments as a whole, whilst also applying academic learning to real life situations.”
At this early stage of his career, Billy says he is open to any opportunity in the theme park and attractions industry that is thrown at him in the future.
He sees himself one day developing into a marketing or PR role at Alton Towers, or possibly progress within Guest Excellence where he is currently based.
“I do also see myself doing some work abroad at other Merlin attractions around the globe, or perhaps at another resort such as Europa Park,” Billy adds.
“In my opinion, the opportunities are endless, as I am receiving insightful knowledge and useful experiences thanks to the Visitor Attraction and Resort Management course at Staffordshire University.”