Are free SCUBA internships worth it?
Working at a successful PADI Career Development Center that specialises in Divemaster and Instructor training I am often sent enquiries about these programs, frequently, these enquiries ask if it is possible to receive the training in exchange for work so that the potential candidate does not have to pay. Of course I understand why some people would look to pursue this option, the fact that it is an option that exists is no doubt a major reason. However, there are some big considerations to bare in mind that you might have overlooked which could be detrimental to your development and success in the role thereafter.
What does 'free' mean for you?
Becoming a dive professional is a choice you make so that you can pursue diving as a career, regardless of whether you view it as short or long term. Most instructors and divemasters have invested a lot of money into their training especially if you consider in addition to the courses there are often travel costs, extra living expenses and dive gear ownership. As a professional diver, you will have a duty of care towards your divers which is a legal responsibility to prioritise their safety whilst they’re under your supervision. As a result, it makes sense that anyone wanting to be the aforementioned professional should undertake the necessary training that educates you thoroughly as to what these considerations are and how to apply them effectively. The only real way to achieve this is by spending time with your instructor, this is a key element which is critical for your development as this is where a lot of the knowledge and experiences you gain will come from. Asking for a free internship means that potential candidates are asking these same professionals to impart their knowledge and experiences for free, immediately devaluing the skills and knowledge that you stand to gain. Would you realistically expect your instructor to be completely involved with you knowing that they’re not receiving pay for it, the truth is they are more likely to do the minimum required and spend the least amount of time with you, not because they’re lazy or incapable of effectively teaching you but because it’s a lot of specialised work that they (probably) paid a lot of money to receive themselves and now they are giving it away free and having no return on their investment.
From a candidates perspective, you will most likely work for a few months. You’ll be tasked with a lot of the more mundane duties, filling & hauling tanks, cleaning boats, rinsing gear which is not very developmental and leaves little time for you to receive your free training from your instructor who has maybe worked a full day already and is not being paid to teach you. This affects what you can get out of the course, therefore affecting your overall experience, all just to save a thousand or so dollars!
Conversely, when you pay for your Divemaster course then the instructor is being paid to train you, this changes the entire dynamic and alters your involvement from being a source of free labour into that of a student whos learning is a priority for your instructor to develop. It provides a structured course where your instructor can ensure you are trained with sound knowledge and practical skills because you are paying for their time to do so.
The result of paying for your internship
The relationship with your instructor during your Divemaster training is referred to within the course as more of a ‘mentor’ than an outright instructor because a big component of what makes it valuable is sharing conversations and ideas as well as giving feedback on performance so you can develop - and this means spending time with your instructor. What you are as a Divemaster will be heavily influenced by the network of peers and professionals around you during your development phase. So your eventual position within the industry is a reflection of the attitudes that have dictated your training and if you are surrounded by those who treat scuba diving as ‘cheap’ because they give it away for free then this mentality will be adopted by you too as you’ll know no other way.
The culture of 'free'
As I touched on earlier, free internships have a devaluing effect not just limited to your training but also on the dive industry. We're not saying that every free internship will yield poor training, some will be credible and part of a larger business plan from the dive center. Thousands of dive professionals are certified every year, most of whom seek work and free internships (and discounted courses for that matter) for the most part create a cascading effect often reflected in professional diver salaries, they can’t get paid more if the courses they teach aren’t generating money to do so. Choosing a free internship is a contributing factor to this and when coupled the inevitable decrease in the quality of your training that will result from choosing this option you can see why many facilities advise against this option.
You get what you pay for.