Teenager Andrew Schirn has joined an exclusive club after passing his exams to become a dive instructor.
The 19-year-old, who will start work at the Lobster Pot dive center in January, is one of only a few Caymanian dive instructors on the island.
Despite Cayman being surrounded by reefs and home to some of the best diving in the world, the industry has typically held little appeal for Caymanians. Some dive centers are trying to change that by offering internships, and in some cases free training to young Caymanians.
Mr. Schirn, who went from being a beginner diver in August to passing his instructor exam last week, said he has always loved the water and decided to pursue diving in his gap year between school and college. He plans to study business and is interested in managing his own dive shop.
Ash McKnight of GoPro Cayman, and the Cayman Islands Tourism Association’s watersports director, said he could think of four other Caymanian instructors on island. There are around 40 dive shops in Cayman and an estimated 150 dive instructors.
Mr. McKnight, a course director who certifies around 200 new dive instructors every year from all over the world, said he could only remember a handful of Caymanians sitting the exams in the past decade.
Most people who sit the course come from overseas specifically for the training or are expats on island thinking about a potential career change.
He believes the lack of interest in the industry from local people is basically down to economics. Average pay for an instructor is around $1,800 a month.
“It is a lifestyle job rather than a money job. A lot of young people use it as a way to do some traveling.”
The advantage of the job, he says, is the chance to go to work in shorts and flip-flops. And for the Caymanians who do get involved in the industry, Mr. McKnight says, there is plenty of opportunity to progress.
“It is quite a transient industry, so if you are settled down and you continue to work at a dive center, you can progress to management quite quickly.”
He said the industry would like to see more Caymanian dive instructors, and some shops are even offering free instruction or internships.
Dawn Clerkson, manager of Lobster Pot dive shop, said the business funded Mr. Schirn’s training to divemaster level as part of an internship with the company.
“We gave him a hard time and made him work hard, but he did very well. We are really proud of him,” she said. “I am not really sure why diving is not such a big profession for Caymanians, when we are surrounded by reefs.”
Qualifying as a dive instructor includes completing at least 100 dives, learning to teach the practical and theoretical skills involved, and becoming certified as an emergency first responder.
Mr. Schirn said he enjoyed the course and, in comparison to his A-Levels, had not found it too difficult.
He believes the cost of pursuing diving qualifications puts off other young people from getting involved.
“It is quite costly unless you get an internship, like I did. I think a lot of people also don’t like to be outside in the sun 24/7.”
Mr. McKnight said efforts are being made to get more young people interested in diving and the environment in general.
The Young Environmental Leadership Course, a partnership between GoPro diving and the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, funds dive training for 12 school-age children every year.