Career Advice From An Expert
By BILL HARRIGAN
I get to dive with a lot of people while writing articles for Skin Diver. It's one of the best parts of the job. Most of the time we end up talking about great places to dive or underwater photography, but often the topic is working in the industry. Or, to be more precise, how to make a living diving. Since my own experience was mostly good luck, good friends and a willingness to travel often with too much equipment, I'm usually not much help. But when I was assigned to do a story on the International Diving Career Institute at Hall's, I decided I would put the same questions I get asked most to an expert in the field, Bob Brayman. So I cornered Bob in his office on the grounds of the Faro Blanco Resort in Marathon, Florida, and asked him the most common questions I've heard about diving careers.
SDM: Okay, Bob, let's say I'm a newly certified diver. I really enjoy diving and I want to make a career of it-or a least make a living from it-for a few years. What experience do I need?
Bob: The answer to that depends on where you go for your training. At a career institute like Hall's, we provide the experience. You are not expected to get it on your own before you come here. You can enroll here as a nondiver and still graduate in 10 to 12 weeks.
SDM: But can I make any money as a dive instructor?
Bob: Well, you need to realize that being a dive instructor, if that's all you do, is normally a part-time job. If that's all you want or you're only looking at it as a short term occupation, that's fine, the sport diving industry needs all the talented instructors it can get. If you are thinking about a long term career, though, consider this: dive instruction represents only a fraction of the total service needed by the industry. Instructors at a dive resort spend maybe 20 percent of their time actually teaching. If you have the right qualifications in addition to your instructor's certificate you can make a reasonable wage, even just starting out. Our graduates typically start in jobs making $20,000 to $25,000 per year, including tips and commissions. That compares favorably to other professions such as teaching or nursing.
SDM: What are these other qualifications and how do I get them?
Bob: Employers want someone who can handle telephone inquires, sell equipment, teach, guide dives like an underwater naturalist, fix broken equipment and help dock the boat. They want someone who can help guests with their cameras, computers, scooters and rebreathers. Those abilities come from training in equipment maintenance, retail operations, travel, accident management, compressor operation and maintenance, boat operations and even training in the more technical fields such as nitrox, rebreathers and underwater communications.
SDM: Where can I get all the necessary training?
Bob: There are literally hundreds of excellent schools in this country where you can learn to be a dive instructor, but only a few career institutes that can provide the breadth of training and the all important experience that you need to quickly land a job with long term prospects. During the last 26 years, the curriculum at Hall's has evolved to the point where our graduates have exactly the qualifications most demanded by the highest paying employers in the dive industry. For instance, during 12 weeks at Hall's, which would include our 10 week Professional Store and Resort Instructor Training Program, the one week Professional Rebreather Instructor Training Program and the one week Professional Deep Tech Instructor Training Program, you would earn 29 certifications. These are qualifications from 10 different agencies, including the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI), the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI), the American Canadian Underwater Certification (ACUC), the National Association of Scuba Diving Schools (NASDS), Technical Diving International (TDI) and the International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers (IANTD).
SDM: Isn't all that training expensive? Many people have limited financial resources. If they had a lot of money they probably wouldn't be looking for a new career!
Bob: Compared to the technical training required for many other fields, the price of training for a career in diving is small. Still, you're right, the amount is substantial. The overall cost of a career program will probably be between $10,000 and $12,000. Well established schools like Hall's are recognized by the government and by financial institutions, so student funding is available through grants for those who qualify and student loans for any candidate.
SDM: OK, so I've graduated from Hall's institute and I'm looking for a job. How do I find someone who will offer me the kind of money you mentioned earlier?
Bob: Now you have three things working for you. First, you are well trained in the specific skills most employers in the industry require. Second, you have the long standing reputation of Hall's behind you. It's your pedigree in the diving world, in the same way a law degree from Harvard or another top school is in the legal world. Potential employers know from their own experience that Hall's graduates can actually do the job right from the first day. Third, job placement is an integral part of the program at Hall's. We help you build a professional resume and put you in our professional placement service. We have thousands of active, serious employers on file and they are seeking more graduates than we can supply.
SDM: Let's say you've lined me up with a dive operation at a resort in the Caribbean or The Bahamas. What is my typical day at work going to be like?
Bob: Any of the skills you acquired at Hall's could be brought into play anytime during the day. For instance, you might spend the first hour at a computer, confirming travel arrangements and answering e-mail questions for guests coming to dive. Next, you might be giving a resort course and guiding a dive for someone completely new to diving. After that, you might have to quickly repair a couple of regulators belonging to a couple who used them in five years. You might also be assisting them in selecting some new or replacement gear from the retail store or helping them with rental gear. You could be assigned as the afternoon divemaster on one of the boats, responsible for the safety and fun of a whole boatload of divers. After the dive you could be filling tanks or changing the compressor oil and filters. Those are just a few of the many possible ways a day could go, but you can see you need many skills and they have to be sharp. You won't have time to brush up before you teach, advise, guide or rescue. This is a fun, rewarding business, but it's also demanding.
SDM: Well, that's the kind of challenge I'm looking for, but what about my future? What will I be doing five or ten years from now?
Bob: Now you have a lot of choices, all depending on your own interests and initiative. You have a good job that will give you the opportunity to stay in the business while you decide where you want to specialize. Over the next few years you should look around at the people who have successful careers related to diving and find your own niche. Perhaps it might be photography, starting your own shop, becoming an equipment representative, working for the government, technical diving or developing computer applications for the dive business. Now it's up to you how far you go.
SDM: Thanks for your advice, Bob. How can we find out more about the International Diving Career Institute at Hall's?
Bob: Call us at (800) 331-4255. In Florida or outside the U.S., you'll have to dial (305) 743-5929. Requests can also be faxed to (305) 743-8168 or sent to Bob Brayman's International Diving Career Institute at Hall's, 1994 Overseas Highway, Marathon, Florida 33050.