Like so many others, you probably got into the dive industry because you love it. The freedom, the flexibility, and the worldwide adventures lured you in. And then reality set in. The industry is rough, you’re making next to nothing, and you can barely afford to make it home to visit family, let alone go on adventures. Sound familiar? It doesn’t have to be like that. Here are four musts if you want to command a better salary, build a better dive industry career and help save the sport all at the same time.
Make yourself marketable
Finishing your Open Water Instructor course is only the first step. Sure, you can teach a couple of classes for your local dive shop, and this is great. You’ll have a lot of fun and you’ll start getting some valuable experience. But if you want to have your pick of destinations and ask for a decent salary, you must drink the Kool-Aid and go further with your career.
Add specialties and shoot for a minimum title of Master Scuba Diver Trainer (MSDT) or equivalent. And make sure you’re picking up specialties with a market, such as Deep, Wreck, Night, Side-Mount and Nitrox. Beware of over specializing with niche certifications; they’re fun, but they only appeal to a small market. Save them for after you get a job.
Once you’ve achieved a MSDT rating, you’re valuable enough to employers that you can start choosing where you want to work instead of employers hiring you just to fill an opening or helping you get your foot into the industry.
If you really want to seal the deal, make sure you’re conversant in a few languages. Even if you’re not fluent, being able to communicate the basics in multiple tongues makes you a far more valuable employee. Keep adding additional skills such as photography, videography, marketing, accounting or mechanical ability; dive businesses are multi-faceted and the more you can offer, the more marketable you become. These skills will also provide work when the season is slow.
Foster good work habits. Be on time (or early) to commitment and follow through on your promises. Be reliable and work your butt off. Take on and learn as much as you can, and be helpful. The dive industry is small. People travel and keep contacts worldwide, and they talk. A lot. Make sure they have only good things to say about you.
So now you’ve got the training, additional skills and references covered. Now comes the next piece of the puzzle.
Say yes to every adventure. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s all experience. Work landlocked retail, resort dive shops, snorkel tours, liveaboards and yachts. Get out of your comfort zone and travel. Switch cities, countries, oceans, or hemispheres. Go on adventures outside of diving like hiking, climbing, kayaking, or surfing.
Gaining training is easy; you only must open your wallet to begin. But experience takes time, and it’s not only ratings that count, but also what you’ve learned along the way. What lessons were important to you as you progressed? Who did you meet and what did you learn from them? Were you welcomed into the community? The knowledge one gains from all of this life experience and the ability to apply it to an employer’s operation is invaluable. Your customers travel; you need to too. Stay long enough in one spot as to still have been an asset to your employer, but make sure you don’t get complacent. Spend a minimum of 6 months in a place before putting that chapter on your resume.
Demand what you’re worth
You are now an MSDT with language skills. You can fix any piece of equipment, balance a budget, and increased sales at any shop by 300 percent. You’ve traveled to 20 countries. And you’re broke. You spent all of this time and money to become a hot commodity; now you’ve got to figure out how to get paid for it.
You’ll start out pretty happy to be living in a tropical location making enough to just enough to eat, but that will change. Trust me. You’ll want to see and do more, and then you’ll be mad at yourself for accepting room and board as payment.
For decades, employers have been able to pay awful wages to people who simply love to be underwater, because these dive pros can be easily replaced. This has had a trickle-down effect. How many horror stories have you heard of employers shorting their employees’ pay? Stealing their tips? Working their employees all sorts of terrible hours without any schedule or security when a season is slow and their commission-based pay is returning no profit?
There’s a smaller pool
Have you ever noticed that there is a serious lack of 20- to 30-year-olds who travel to dive, but who aren’t relying on their parents’ financial assistance? People talk, and they talk about horrible experiences. Not only has that age group turned away from working in the dive industry, they have also turned away from diving as a whole. And the baby boomers are getting too old to carry dozens of tanks every day.
This means the pool of folks looking to work in the dive industry has gotten progressively smaller, and those who are actually worth a damn, even fewer. Employers have killed their own industry and workforce without replenishing it. On the plus side, this means the ball is in your court if you’re a top-notch employee. Demand your worth and if someone isn’t willing to pay it, keep looking. Only when dive employees start behaving like professionals and demanding professional wages will they be treated as such. Demand your fair worth and the next generation of dive professionals will sing the praises of the industry and encourage others to dive in force.
Or, we can all stand by and continue to watch the dive industry continue to eat itself and destroy the sport we all love. Take pride in yourself and your work, and demand to be compensated well. Just make sure you’re worth it.
Don’t forget to grow
Well done! You are now a decently paid member of the diving community and doing well for yourself. Now what? As you get older you’ll probably want more, and to take down a bigger fish, you have to become a bigger fish.
Look at getting your captain’s license, or a business and marketing degree. Start your own operation. And as you climb don’t forget what it was like at the beginning for you and what you wanted. Make sure the next wave of divemasters and instructors earns their dues, but help them achieve something more professional than what we experienced. In the end, we’re all divers.
By guest author Adam Straub