|If you want to be a divemaster, you'll get to carry a ton of these!|
However if you've made it to PADI rescue diver, you've probably noticed that there's a very definite sales-pitch at the end of every course. If you've done the Open Water, you really should do the Advanced course. If you're doing the advanced course, why stop there? Move on to rescue. As a rescue-diver, you should seriously consider becoming a dive master and so on. This isn't something vile or inherently bad, it's done in all industries. You buy a car, you'll probably want some insurance to go with it, or how about a nice leather interior or a shiny GPS navigator? Shortly put, everyone who has something to sell, is interested in additional sales. As a PADI instructor I make my living selling to people - sure some people walk in from the street and ask to do this or that course, but if I want to earn money next week too, I'd be stupid not to ask if they'd be interested in upgrading their license, joining a nitrox class or whatnot.
Personally I don't find selling like this distasteful. I would if what I sold was crap, but I genuinely believe the courses are good. People are happy paying for instruction when they feel they get something worthwhile out of it. Nitrox and rescue courses for example are just rock solid courses, where people learn something valuable, but when we start talking about professional levels of diver education, things start getting a little fuzzy. The marketing of professional courses, both from official side and very often also from the individual instructors out in the shops and resorts, sadly just doesn't reflect reality in my opinion.
The pretext is that you can quit your boring job and become a dive professional living a careless life of aquatic adventure on a white sand beach. The truth is that you can, if you've got the funds to support you as you do so. Nine out of ten won't make enough to live off. Nine out of ten won't make enough for their return flight. Nine out of ten won't make enough for professional insurance and certainly won't make enough to replace their gear when it wears out. The one that does make it, not only has very good sales and language skills, he is most likely also blessed with a fair bit of luck. Being at the right place at the right time and meeting the right people account for how a lot of my diving colleagues landed themselves their jobs. It's also why I'm still in the industry. (The average lifespan of an instructor is roughly two years, before he hangs up his fins.)
If you don't believe me, let me show you some statistics. PADI issues a little less than a million certifications every year. (923,571 in 2010, the last year PADI has published data on) Also in 2010 PADI had 135,038 members. That's divemasters, assistant instructors, and upwards in the PADI instructor echelon. Remember, only professionals are members of PADI, although many beginning divers have the misconception they are PADI members because they've done a PADI course.
Now PADI used to to publish which percentage of their members had which qualifications, but it would seem this info isn't readily available anymore. Going alone on memory here, there's around 100,000 members who are at least Open Water Instructors, although many of course have a higher rating. This is important, because with a few insignificant exceptions, only Open Water Scuba Instructors and upwards are allowed to issue certifications. So if you actually sit down and do the math, each instructor, in average, only gets around nine certification in a year! Hardly enough to make a living you'll probably agree.
Now consider that successful dive shops have instructors who issue hundreds if not close to a thousand certifications in a year. That cuts down on what's left for you. Also consider, that a lot of the PADI marketing scheme is feeding the dog its own tail. Some of the people who do the most courses, are fellow professionals. There's tons of instructors who get at least half a dozen specialties, a staff instructor rating, or the pat-on-the-back-well-done ratings of MSDT or Master Instructor. All of these count as another certification, although some of them doesn't actually involve any instructors doing any work. It doesn't generate any money or work for any instructors, but it does count as another certification.
So why is the pretext that you can live as scuba instructor so predominant. Well, possibly because the people who have paid up already, are trying to make back their investment, but certainly because there's good money in taking a budding diver all the way to the top. Many places in Asia a typical DM course goes something along these lines. A few weeks into the course it's discussed how difficult it is to find work as a divemaster, but that as an instructor you'll be much more employable, because you can do both divemaster AND instructor work. Then once the student is on his way to becoming an instructor, he's told that, quite frankly, there's just so many instructors, that it's almost hopeless to get employed without a bit of experience. Fortunately, if you'll just pay a little more, you can do an internship as an instructor (where you not only pay for the chance to work, you also ensure the shop won't have to hire an instructor.) Then once you have a number of certifications under your belt, the course director convince you to get a bunch of specialties, as it just makes you much more employable, and it will make you a MSDT.
Guess what, once you're a MSDT, you can't get any work because the next bunch of instructors are already paying the shop to work for free! However, there's no reason to despair yet because there's a thing called IDC-staff instructor, and if you get that course, you can assist the course director on the instructor courses. It's great fun, and not terribly expensive. And then, surely you'll be more employable. Only when you have the IDCSI qualification, you discover that you'll have to pay to actually assist on courses, and thus, almost at the very top of instructor-ratings you are still paying others for a chance to work for them.
It really is a very good business plan, and it's executed with great precision and flair by the people who make their living doing it.
So, does that mean you shouldn't become a divemaster? Well, that's entirely up to you of course - there can be a ton of valid reasons to do so. It may look cool on your CV, it'll no doubt make you a better diver, you'll have fun doing the course, you'll learn a lot of interesting stuff and you may get lucky if you mention it in bars with non-divers and share the story of you fought the great white shark. But unless you're outstandingly lucky and skilled, you can safely forget about making any serious money on it, and taking the next course, and the next course after that just won't change that, sorry. Because, - at the end of the day - people in this industry are not only willing to work for free, they are willing to pay for working.
Do you agree or disagree? Did you land yourself a dream job, am I overly pessimistic or a hypocrite for speaking my mind as a professional who's (barely) making a living? Share your thoughts, I'd like to hear from you.