We’ve discussed how much we are missing data (and even more, reliable data) in the dive industry. But we have some. For instance, we have a good idea of who the current client-divers are. For the socio-demographic profile of dive professionals (divemasters and instructors), we have very little. Presumably, certifying agencies have some of that info but they are not sharing it.
In the Fall of 2018, DEMA published a report on New Dive Professionals Psychological Insights. It doesn’t give us a complete socio-demographic profile of the average dive pro in the USA, but it tells us a bit about the perception of the dive industry by the dive professionals involved in the study. We will review that report, below.
But first, let’s look at the dive pro profile, based on our experience at teaching IDC (Instructor Development Courses) and operating dive centers in Canada and the USA.
1. Profile of a Scuba Diving Professional — From Experience
The first category of differentiation among instructor candidates is between those who intend to teach and those who do not. I’m not kidding! It’s two different profiles of scuba diving professionals.
To Teach or Not To Teach
In many Instructor Development Courses (IDC) I’ve thought, we had instructor candidates who I called trophy hunters. Typically, they are very successful in their career, and they have above-average revenues. They are lawyers, doctors, business people, and the like. They want a Dive Instructor certificate to put on the wall of their office, next to the pilot license!
Don’t get me wrong; these candidates are great clients to have. They have no problem paying for all the courses you want to sell them. And they contribute to making your instructor courses more profitable. But they will not become active dive instructors. For them, it’s more about self-actualization. They are often older men — the baby boomers for whom scuba diving was a lifelong dream.
Then, we had the instructor candidates who wanted to teach after their Instructor Examination (IE). This crowd tends to be younger, although we can also find older people in that group. It’s a profile of a dive professional different than the trophy hunter.
For the younger ones, it’s often the dream of traveling for free that is driving them; while the older ones in that category often were considering a pre-retirement on a beautiful island. Either way, they had dreams and goals about teaching scuba diving. Internally, I referred to that group as the dreamers. Why?
They usually arrived with a perception of the dive industry totally out of touch with reality!
With the lack of accurate industry market data mixed with the numerous pep talks and marketing propaganda constantly distributed by training agencies, it’s no surprise that a lot of instructor candidates think that the dive industry is booming and they will be living the dream.
I’ve seen a lot of these instructors (if not the majority of them) giving up on teaching scuba diving about two years after graduation, once they face the harsh reality of the dive industry.
A funny statement we had about these dreamers is that they gave up once they realized they’d left a boring “9 to 5” cubicle life for volunteer work “5 to 9”!
Tired of working ‘9 to 5’? Come work ‘5 to 9’!
The Consequences of a High Instructor Turnover
With the way the dive industry currently operates, a high dive instructor turnover is a good thing for dive centers.
Newly graduated instructors lack experience, but they are highly motivated and willing to work for “near free.” Once they get tired… Bye Bye! There was an IE last month, and we have a few new dive instructors to take your place!
For dive centers offering dive instructor courses, it’s a double win. It’s easier to sell an IDC when you can guarantee them a job afterward. And guarantying a job is easy to do if your current dive instructors don’t want to teach anymore.
Of course, for the consumer, it means a significant lack of consistency in the quality of the experience which is hurting the dive industry. But…
Everybody is so busy running the paper mill, nobody has time to realize we’re producing the wrong paper.
2. DEMA Report on New Dive Pro Psychological Insights
Let’s now have a quick look at the DEMA report on New Dive Professionals Psychological Insights published in the Fall of 2018.
Let’s clarify that the word “New” in the title refers to the dive professionals, not the insights. The study surveyed recently certified dive professionals, mainly young ones.
This study was produced with information from 2 sources:
- A survey questionnaire answered by 40 new dive professionals, of which 24 were in the “Under 30” age group.
- A one-hour focus group with nine dive pros.
Therefore, we cannot take the information in this report and assume it applies to the average dive pro in North America. The sample was too small, and the data collected was mainly “opinions.” The question this study was looking to answer was on identifying barriers to younger divers entering the sport and then becoming dive professionals.
A big part of the report covers the perception of DEMA and the DEMA Show. We’ll skip this part and jump into comments about the dive industry. The highlights are as follows.
- 90% of the respondents mentioned the cost of participation (certification, equipment, travel) as a barrier to entry for younger divers.
- Equipment cost was particularly identified as a barrier to entry into scuba diving.
- The respondents had an overwhelmingly positive outlook on the future growth of the dive industry.
- Many respondents had a severe concern about the perception of adequate diver certification training.
- “Passion” was a key reason why the respondents remained in the dive industry despite the low pay.
These points are all fascinating. But they seem ‘off track.’
- The “overwhelmingly positive outlook on growth” is, in part, due to ignorance because we lack a real dive industry trade publication. And what these newly certified dive professionals receive is the pep talks and motivational speeches by their training agency. There’s a lot we need to change in the dive industry to put it back on a growth path.
- The high-cost of scuba diving is partly due to our old (current) scuba diving industry business model where we are dependent on peddling dive gear to as many divers as possible to pay the rent. We need to redefine the role of the dive center and how we sell dive gear. We also need to develop better selling skills to connect with affluent clients.
- The inadequate diver certification. This is a discussion in itself. We will discuss the need to redefine how we teach scuba diving.
- Passion is a key factor to identify future dive professionals. We have to disagree with the authors of this report.
The authors of this report conclude: “Creating Passion in new divers or people learning to dive is critical to identifying divers who will eventually pursue a career in diving.”
For sure, creating passion in our client-divers is a good thing. However, one of the problems we have in the dive industry is a lack of business people. A scuba diver gets hooked on scuba diving, and that’s why he becomes a dive instructor. And then, he starts or buys a local dive shop. It gives us an industry full of hobbyists and severely lacking business management skills. I may be passionate about skiing; it doesn’t mean I would be good at managing a ski resort. We need to go beyond the passion and recruit people with business skills.
We have to mention one other interesting comment in this 2018 DEMA report:
- It was suggested that DEMA offer “individual profiles” for instructors and divemasters (on the DEMA website, for instance).
It’s an exciting idea. But since even training agencies “hide” dive professionals to push, instead, the visibility of dive centers, I don’t see DEMA doing it. Besides, the training agencies have a lot of say on what DEMA does.
However, we believe it’s a valid recommendation, and it is part of our discussion on redefining how we sell dive gear vs. dive training.
3. Profile of a Scuba Diving professional — How Do We Produce Them?
The way to creating new dive professionals usually and currently follows this path:
- You find open water diver students who are like fish underwater and seem passionate about scuba.
- You give them plenty of praise and suggest they would be a great divemaster. Of course, you also sell them all the other courses in between.
- During the Divemaster course, you mention how great they would be as a dive instructor. And voilà! You have a new dive instructor.
- Most dive centers are created or purchased by these instructors.
- All of it is based on their passion for scuba diving, not their ability at managing a small business — even less a complicated small business like a dive center.
Being passionate is not a bad thing. It’s good! However, building a professional scuba diving industry satisfying today’s consumers requires a lot more than passion.
Some of these divers will, indeed, be excellent dive instructors and dive center managers. But many of them did not have the call to be a great business person. In some cases, they didn’t even have any predisposition at being an instructor! We’re mixing things that don’t go together.
We need to find ways to recruit business people to the dive industry and then, we can teach them how to scuba dive.