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If you could have a responsible, well-paying job in the dive industry ten weeks from today, regardless of your current experience level, would you take it? That’s the question Bob Brayman is asking at his International Career Diving Institute at Hall’s in Marathon, Florida. Hall’s has a long tradition of turning out exceptionally well-trained dive instructors, so that’s a startling invitation. How is it possible? You have to be a diver with a fair amount of experience to apply for instructor training anywhere else. To find out the whole story, Skin diver sent me to the Florida Keys to talk to Bob.
SDM: Bob, how can someone with no prior experience come to Hall’s and walk out ten weeks later fully qualified as an instructor?
Brayman: The International Career Diving Institute at Hall’s is a private vocational school and, like any other vocational school in the educational system, we provide all the necessary training for our students. You don’t have to complete an apprenticeship in other vocations and we don’t think you should have to in diving. We wanted to develop a curriculum that placed no barriers in front of students. We’ll make sure you have all the required dives and certifications when you graduate but you don’t have to start on your own before you get here.
SDM: What is different at Hall’s that lets you make this policy work?
Brayman: Most dive training centers are aligned with a particular certifying agency such as PADI or NAUI and they are locked into the products of that agency. At Hall’s we decided to remove the importance of those agency labels and concentrate on specific course content. So, in assembling our curriculum, we side-stepped the one agency route and picked the best training available for each phase of the program. We asked ourselves, what exactly is needed to turn out the most competent graduate possible? As a result, our professional career program incorporates training from eight major certifying agencies.
SDM: Is that a radically new approach?
Brayman: Well, it’s definitely a new way to focus on the value of each hour of training but it’s also a natural extension of the same approach that has made the International Diving Career Institute at Hall’s such a success since it was established in 1978.
SDM: And how does that approach work in the job market?
Brayman: It works wonders! It also means we can work with our students however we need to in order to ensure they are good. We can make sure they aren’t just able to pass a test, they can actually do the job well. Real competence is far more important than a paper certificate in getting hired and succeeding at your job.
SDM: How do you instill that kind of competence in your students?
Brayman: Naturally, the course work provides specific checks that must be completed, but the real test is in actually doing any task. Instructor candidates at Hall’s teach real students under real conditions. Of course, they do it under the watchful eye of a Hall’s Instructor Trainer but the realism is there. The precisely selected courses build the basic level of competence and the realistic experience puts the polish on it. The realism extends to every facet of the diving business, too. We teach our students to sell and repair equipment, guide dives, assist customers with rental gear, act as boatmasters and all of the other tasks employers will require.
SDM: What courses are available at Hall’s?
Brayman: We have two program tracks at Hall’s. First let me explain the Professional Career Programs, which are for full time students. The core of the Professional Career Program is the ten week Professional Store and Resort Instructor Training Program. An able-bodied person can enroll in this program with no diving experience and will finish with instructor certificates from NAUI, CMAS, ACUC, NASDS, TDI, IANTD, DAN and the National Safety Council. Just as importantly, though, they will also be certified as divemasters by PADI, NAUI and ACUC and as equipment repair technicians by NAUI and ACUC. They will also receive Resort and Store certifications from NAUI and ACUC.
Instructor Training, Sales and Operations, and Equipment Repair Technician are available as individual courses for students who elect not to take the ten week comprehensive course. Owing to the increasing popularity of rebreathers and other new technologies, we also offer two additional courses, the Professional Rebreather Instructor Training Program and the Professional Deep Tech Instructor Program. The Deep Tech program is an introductory program that will give candidates the ability to manage technical situations, whether on a dive boat or in a store.
Our second track is the Honor Program, which is for students with prior experience who are willing to complete substantial home study before arriving. The Honor Program offers the opportunity to build on the experience you already have in order to become a Rescue Diver, Divemaster or Instructor. Like the Professional Program, instructor graduates receive certifications from eight different agencies. The Honor Program courses vary in length from 4 days to 19, depending on the level of instruction and prior experience.
SDM: The training obviously goes well beyond what is needed to instruct diving.
Brayman: Absolutely! One of the difficulties with beginning a career in diving today is that dive instructors have been typecast as people who are just doing the job for fun. Instructor candidates sometimes have a hard time convincing their parents or friends that diving offers legitimate career opportunities. The reality is that there are good jobs in diving, jobs that pay well and have high potential for advancement. But you need to be qualified for more than just teaching students to dive; you need to be trained in the business of diving. That’s why we developed such comprehensive programs. Our professional programs make the door of Hall’s the entry point to the whole diverse industry of diving, not just to open water instructing.
SDM: What prospects do Hall’s graduates have for serious employment?
Brayman: Right now we couldn’t possibly supply graduates for all the jobs we have waiting. Our placement record is 100 percent. And there are good reasons why that situation exists. Most importantly, our courses are primarily geared around what employers want, not just what is needed to pass a test, so our graduates are in high demand. They are so multi-talented and certified by so many agencies that they can’t be pigeon-holed as one particular type of instructor and that makes them more effective as employees. Because of this any employer in the industry can come to Hall’s for new employees and they do. Hall’s presently has more than 3,300 active employers in its job placement program. We continually screen this listing to ensure it is up-to-date and the job offerings in it are worthwhile.
Right now Hall’s graduates can pick and choose to get what is most important to them, whether it’s location, pay or type of work. Our ‘lead book’ has current employment listings for cruise lines, resorts, marine institutes, dive shops, theme parks and live-aboards. There are Hall’s graduates working in police departments, universities and even NASA.
SDM: The training needed to launch a vocation in diving is small compared to four years of college tuition but it’s still a substantial investment. What sort of assistance do you offer students in managing the cost of the training?
Brayman: Financing definitely is one of the most important parts of making the decision to enter this field. At Hall’s we have tried to find as many ways as we can to assist students with financing. Low interest loans are available for up to 100 percent of the fees. Our programs qualify for Veteran’s Administration Educational Benefits. Retraining and rehabilitation grants from Workmen’s Compensation and the Job Training Assistance Program can also be used at Hall’s. Fees for the course, including accommodations, can even be charged to major credit cards.
SDM: Since you broached the subject of accommodations, tell us about living conditions for students and the facilities in general.
Brayman: Of course, it’s tough to beat the Florida Keys and Hall’s is right in the middle, on Marathon. Our dive center, classrooms, living quarters, pool and dive boat are all on the premises of the Faro Blanco Marine Resort. The International Career Institute shares a 2,200 square foot building with Hall’s Diving Center, built expressly for Hall’s by the resort in 1986. Our pool training is conducted in the resort’s Olympic sized pool. A wide variety of accommodations are available at Faro Blanco, from luxurious to economical. The resort offers special ‘share-a-room’ rates to Hall’s students, which are as low as $13 per night. The rooms are dormitory style, with up to four students per room, most with kitchenettes. There are two restaurants at Faro Blanco and a large selection of restaurants, shops and service facilities are close by.
Of course, diving is excellent all year long in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Within a short distance of our docks we can choose from many different deep or shallow dive sites, including some excellent wrecks. Our dive boat is a custom designed 40 foot boat with all the modern safety equipment and diver amenities.
SDM: Brayman, how can people find out more about the International Diving Career Institute at Hall’s?
Brayman: Nationally, they can call (800) 331-4255. In Florida or outside the U.S. call (305) 743-5929. Requests can also be faxed to (305) 743-8168 or sent to Bob Brayman’s International Diving Career Institute at Hall’s, 1994 Overseas Highway, Marathon, Florida 33050.