Friday, March 28, 2014

Internships, networking and more: TEA NextGen helps students enter the theme park industry

Photos of TEA NextGen "Gib Gab" at VOA Associates by Patrick Kling. More photos on TEA's Facebook page.
Fostering the future: Got internships?
by Clara Rice

TEA NextGen Chair Clara Rice

Hello, readers! I’m Clara Rice, TEA NextGen Chair, here with another update on how the TEA’s NextGen Committee is helping to develop the new recruiting class of industry professionals. As reported in a previous article on the TEA Connect blog, the Committee is moving full speed ahead with its slate of CORE (Collaboration, Outreach, Resources, Education) initiatives. Highest priority on our resource list to date has been connecting NextGen members with internships at TEA member companies.

Gib Gab
On March 20, the TEA NextGen Committee, in conjunction with the TEA Eastern North America Division, hosted “Gib Gab,” a speed-networking mixer sponsored and hosted by VOA, with additional sponsors Nickelodeon and ThemeWorks. The event welcomed 32 NextGen members and 14 member companies, who participated in a series of 3-minute, rapid-fire internship interviews. Those not interviewing were treated to a panel discussion on networking techniques and how to prepare for a career in themed entertainment. I was honored to be one of the panelists and was impressed at the inquisitiveness, professionalism and overflowing energy the NextGens displayed.

Those on both sides of the table seemed to have a great time. Paul Osterhout, Senior Director/Executive Producer at Universal Parks & Resorts, commented on the “amazing group of talent present” and said “the state of the industry is in good hands.” Through events like Gib Gab, Paul felt that NextGens are “getting the background and foundation of what it takes to be a great entertainment designer,” and he was “encouraged to meet these young people and see their enthusiasm and passion for the industry.” Brian Burns, a NextGen member and student at Georgia Southern University, called Gib Gab a “great opportunity to network with professionals in the themed entertainment industry.” He felt the evening was “worth it even if nothing comes of it internship-wise,” because of all he had learned.

Many thanks to committee members Andrew Hansen, Arielle Rassel and Marissa Blake for all of their hard work, and to our partners Patrick Kling of Nickelodeon, Joanne del Moral of VOA, Traci Klainer Polimeni of Luce Group and Scott Gill of Themeworks. The NextGen Committee will be soliciting additional networking tips from the company members that participated so that they can be shared with those NextGens attending next week’s TEA Summit and Thea Awards Gala. And of course our committee will continue to offer professional development and career building opportunities for NextGen members (hopefully including more Gib Gabs!) throughout the year.

Internship Exchange Program Beta
In addition to event-based recruiting resources, we’ve been concentrating on our Internship Exchange Program, which directs TEA member companies to a pool of qualified prospective interns and TEA NextGens to companies providing internships.

We began the process last December by sending surveys to member companies and NextGens to assess their interest in the program and to get a sense of both the qualifications companies are looking for and the skill sets our NextGen members possess. The feedback was overwhelming: 97% of member company respondents and 99% of NextGen respondents expressed interest in participating in the program. Both company and NextGen responses came from every geographical division, reflecting the increasingly global reach of the TEA.

The member companies offered a wide variety of internship possibilities, from administrative positions like marketing and HR, to design and content creation, to more technical roles like drafting, engineering and rigging. Some of the more unique opportunities submitted included “cosmetic foam and fur maintenance” and robotics, while one company actually vowed to make their intern “ruler of the free world” (wish that had been around when I was a student)! Other companies supplied more open-ended responses, preferring to craft an internship around the unique skills of the intern. Of the 68% of respondents who said that they had hired interns before, most offered 1-5 positions at one time, ranging in duration from one month to one year (with an average of about 4 months).

The methods of recruitment also varied. While the majority of member companies have been finding interns through word of mouth or established connections with nearby universities, other members are taking advantage of technology, posting on their websites and social media. Some aren’t looking at all, but are merely replying as interested students or recent grads reach out to them. But all signs point to a TEA membership that embraces the idea of hosting qualified interns who are passionate about the industry.

The NextGen respondents came from 5 countries on 3 continents and were enrolled in a variety of university programs. While the majority are pursuing (or pursued) majors in entertainment design and technology, a substantial number are studying architecture and engineering. Still others are involved in the digital realm, with majors like motion media and interactive gaming. Rounding out the NextGen’s studies are business, theatre, communications/writing, illustration, history, urban planning and even biology. Irrespective of their geographic diversity, the majority of the respondents said they would relocate for an internship opportunity.

Either as a result of their programs of study or contributing to them, the most distinguishing characteristic of the NextGens was their breadth of experience. They weren’t just illustrators or marketers or filmmakers – they offered a wide range of skill sets simultaneously: lighting designers with film editing credits, interactive media developers who had performed onstage, project managers who could paint and sketch. Other realms of experience included game design, 3D modeling, sales, mechatronics(!), quality control, sculpting and many more. There appeared to be a great desire to differentiate themselves but not be forced into a specific career “check box.” The themed industry is constantly evolving, so the need for Jacks and Jills of all (or at least many) trades continues to grow, and these NextGen members appear to be rising to the challenge.

How You Can Help (Soon)
So what’s next for the Internship Exchange Program? Well, that’s where you come in! With the advent of the new website later this year, companies and NextGens will be asked to indicate on their profile pages if they are interested hiring interns. Then, via an “internships tab” on the website, both companies and NextGens will be able to access a list of interested interns and intern providers. Since the NextGens are already TEA members, companies can rest assured that these students and recent grads are enthusiastic about and at least somewhat versed in the themed entertainment industry. So be on the lookout for that opportunity.

Dave Cobb of Thinkwell meets NextGen members in TEA's booth at the IAAPA Attractions Expo
How You Can Help Now
While we’re excited about the benefits that the new website will provide, we also know that NextGens are planning their summer internships now, so we’re invoking the power of social media to get the word out about available internship positions. If you’re interested in hiring a NextGen as a summer intern, please email your available positions to Aimee Roy, NextGen Social Media Liaison, at aimee@baamproductions.com, so they can be posted to our TEA NextGen LinkedIn page.

Next Up
For our next Fostering the Future update, I’m handing over the blogging mic to Aimee, who’s going to let you know all about the TEA NextGen Campus Clubs Initiative and how you can infuse a little themed entertainment into your alma mater. Thanks for reading!