By Melanie Huntrods
Special to Orlando Attractions Magazine
How does Walt Disney World staff their theme parks and resorts with 60,000 plus cast members while simultaneously training new talent and continuously marketing a career within their company? Disney has transformed working in the theme park industry from a mere summer job between school semesters, to potential careers in the hospitality, entertainment and services industry. Disney successfully recruits college students from all backgrounds to become paid interns, providing students with hands on, tangible, professional experience, leading to future career paths and permanent cast members.
According to the Disney College Program website, “The Disney College Program at the Walt Disney World Resort is a one-of-a-kind, Disney-designed combination of education and work experience.” This program offers three components which are marketed to students both nationally and internationally – live, learn and earn.
The living component consists of secured housing specifically for interns. Apartment complexes are designated to interns in Lake Buena Vista, where security guards are on the premise 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Additionally attractive to potential students is the provided bus transportation, so bringing a vehicle is optional.
The learning component consists of Disney Collegiate courses, professional networking and various job functions across property. The Disney College Program provides students wishing to attain college course credit during the duration of their internship with Disney Collegiate courses, business courses designed to educate students on Disney policies and procedures, while simultaneously being American Council on Education (ACE) accredited. During the program there are also professional networking events where leaders within Disney Theme Parks and Resorts speak to students about their specific job function and responsibilities within the company.
Other opportunities available on this 47-square mile “learning laboratory,” as stated on their website, are professional development studies and Disney Exploration Series. Lastly, the program offers roles designated to students all across Disney property. Roles within the company can include, quick service food and beverage, resort front desk, entertainment, merchandise and attraction operations, to name a few.
The last component Disney markets to students in the ability to earn. The internship program is a paid internship, where students are paid on an hourly basis. As a member of the College Program, students are guaranteed a minimum of 30 hours per week. Pay rates are determined by job function.
To understand how Disney recruits thousands of students per semester from around the nation, you have to understand the work is not done alone. Disney Theme Parks and Resorts rely heavily on the use of campus representatives to market the program to colleges and universities. Campus Representatives are alumni of the Disney College Program, selected to represent their school and become a liaison for Disney. These students serve as assistants to recruiters of the College Program.
Recruiters for the Disney College Program are assigned a region of the nation to oversee campus representatives and their respective colleges. To market the program, Campus Representatives receive collateral materials in the mail for distribution across campus. Disney mails these materials to career centers nationwide, which are then dispersed to campus representatives which advertise Disney informational sessions coming to their respective campus.
Through this collaborative effort between recruiters, representatives and college campuses, Disney’s informational sessions consist of a lively PowerPoint presentation and video offering a thorough overview of the Disney College Program and the Walt Disney Company. Once informational sessions are underway, the second step in the process is a preliminary computer application, followed by phone interviews with interested applicants. These interviews are approximately 15 minutes in length and students are given various questions and scenarios to determine if they are a good fit for the program.
Campus Representatives are also responsible for additional informational sessions to educate students on Disney policies and procedures and what to expect when they arrive in Orlando. Campus Representatives answers student inquiries and assists students in coordinating with the appropriate university departments for issues regarding transfer guidelines, insurance and internship credit, among others. Disney starts generating excitement before students arrive as interns through the help of Campus Representatives.
So how and why are Campus Representatives motivated to perform this task on campus? While the position is unpaid, the more marketing they do for the program the more reward incentives they receive. Reward incentives can include up to $500 Visa cards, resorts rooms at Disney Theme Parks and Resorts and Disney dining packages. Additionally, being a Campus Representative is a resume enhancer, as Disney looks for company loyalty and experience when hiring candidates for positions within their company.
The final aspect to touch upon is how this program benefits Disney in finding future cast members, and aids in the establishment of professional careers in the hospitality and services industry. For some students, working in the theme park industry is not a long-term career path. But Disney has worked to establish a brand name and created an atmosphere desirable for tens of thousands of students to work in every year. Students from across the nation are immersed in the climate of working at Disney, the benefits they provide to their cast members, and the perks associated with working at Walt Disney World. Once cast members and interns have experienced this, many want to continue this unique lifestyle.
For Disney to attain the best talent for their company and retain these students, Professional Internships are available at the completion of the Disney College Program. Professional Internships are major specific internships and very specific in job function. During the duration of a Professional Internship, networking is the key to acquiring a future job. Disney Theme Parks and Resorts rely heavily on internal hiring, and once you are a cast member, internal job postings are available.
Finally, the merit of having the College Program on your resume in attaining a future job is very helpful. For many leaders in diverse areas of the company, the College Program is where they first started their career. According to their website, by participating in the program, “…Participants will have the opportunity to develop transferable skills, including guest service, problem solving, service recovery, effective communication, teamwork, leadership, attention to detail, time management, personal empowerment, self-confidence, responsibility and cultural sensitivity.” All of these skills are valuable for future endeavors, and recruiters are aware of the skills participants acquire during the College Program.
The Disney College Program is attractive to both students and parents interested in this unique experience. The College Program Recruiting Department recruits thousands nationwide through the use of Campus Representatives and effectively markets working with the Walt Disney Company as a career path and learning experience. An internship with Disney can lead to a career within their company. The magic of being a Walt Disney World cast member doesn’t have to start in Orlando.