Careers Above the Surface

Once you leave the water, there’s no reason to leave the industry.

careers above the surface

ADCI Executive Phil Newsum answers questions about commercial diving career aspirations.

Typically, how long is the career of a commercial diver?

Today, people (divers) tend to take better care of themselves, so it is not unusual to see divers as old as 55-60 years of age, for both saturation and surface diving. There is no formal age limit for divers. It is all based on one’s fitness-to-dive. In fact, we did a study a few years back which indicated that the average age for saturation divers globally is 44 years of age. With that being said, a good number of divers will begin their transition to supervising at around 38-40 years of age.

What are the most common reasons divers transition into other job types/industries?

There are several reasons for why personnel leave the commercial diving industry. Recently, we can attribute a good deal of attrition to the pandemic. However, prior to the pandemic the offshore industry was dealing with a downturn, which negatively impacted the number of projects and diving worldwide. Because of the stability with the allocation of infrastructure money, many inland projects are not affected by the cyclical nature of the oil and gas industry. This has allowed for the retention of divers in the inland sector, as well as the decision of graduates to leave for work in the inland vs. the offshore sector. It goes without saying that the downturn and subsequent pandemic resulted in the loss of key industry personnel in the offshore sector. Presently, all offshore diving contractors in the U.S. are experiencing manpower shortages, causing many of them to turn down projects.

Today’s demographic of young divers is more discriminating when looking at job opportunities in the offshore sector, due to its cyclical nature and reports of unstable forecasts for future work. While there is a great deal of upside with offshore renewable projects in the future, this currently hasn’t swayed graduates to go into the offshore sector. In the U.S., a large percentage of dive school attendees are military veterans who are choosing to go to another trade school after graduation to diversify their skillsets, which is reducing the pool of new tender/divers available to both the offshore and inland sectors.

Of course, there are always graduates that discover that the life of a commercial diver is a little more demanding than they originally anticipated before, and while at, dive school. These individuals tend to go back to home to the job or existence that they originally had before they left for dive school.

Once out of the water, how easy is it to transition to something else? What are some of the most common jobs/positions divers move to?

As mentioned earlier, most divers that transition out of the water tend to become supervisors. There are those divers who do not wish to assume a position of being responsible for others, so they pursue other options within the company such as, equipment repair and maintenance (shopwork), project management, operations, or health, safety and environment (HSE). Large companies also need folks that have IT competency, marketing and technical writing skills for the development or revision of policies and procedures. All the above can be complemented by the prior diving experience of an individual, but it isn’t critical that an individual have commercial or extensive commercial diving experience to repair equipment, work in project management, IT or marketing. In an area such as operations, it is very important to have commercial diving experience, as both a diver and supervisor.

In many instances, one will discover that they will learn more about the industry once they leave the water, because their new position requires them to learn different facets of the industry besides the underwater and topside tasks performed on a job.

For those looking to become an instructor at a commercial dive school, what accreditations are necessary? How are these achievable?

Becoming an instructor at a commercial dive school is attainable for divers with at least two years of field experience. There is a demand for instructors, because the pay for most of the schools is far less than what a diver can make working out in the field. This position is good from a seasonal standpoint for active divers, or for retired personnel who are receiving additional income in conjunction with their dive school pay. I will say that I learned more about physics, medicine and decompression theory when I was a dive school instructor, which has helped me out immeasurably through the years in other industry positions. Like a schoolteacher, being an instructor at a commercial dive school can be a very rewarding experience. No educational certification is required, but it doesn’t hurt if you have formal training. In the U.S., for dive schools to be federal accredited they need to at least one recognized trained educator out of three instructors.

For those looking to move into auditing/consulting. What does that path look like?

Consultants and auditors should have a wealth of experience in the area(s) that they are SMEs in. To be an ADCI Designated Auditor, you need to have at least 10 years of experience in the mode of diving that you are auditing. Auditors also need to go through a workshop to understand the requirements and expectations of the ADCI. Familiarization with the audit reports and contents of the International Consensus Standards for Commercial Diving and Underwater Operations is essential. More and more, you are seeing auditors and consultants having to go through formal training programs, which establish guidelines for objective approaches to audits and projects and not a reliance upon subjective opinions or outlooks from an auditor or consultant. These positions can be very worthwhile and afford a person a great deal of exposure to different projects, industry and country guidelines, and unique challenges for new and difficult underwater operations. These positions were typically ones that “retired” individuals transitioned into, but today it could be someone with only ten years of industry experience under their belt. Years of experience does not guarantee you a competent consultant or auditor.

For those looking to move into clerical duties, project management, or sales with a vendor/manufacturer, how easy is it to find a job? Any networking tips?

Diving contractors, schools and vendors/manufacturers all require front office personnel in various positions outside of the diving and the actual building and operations of the equipment. The key is to ask yourself what is it that you want from your work experience? Where do you feel you can make the greatest impact? Will one opening create another opportunity that currently isn’t open. For some, it is who you are working for that matters more than the actual task assigned. For me, it was always a willingness to keep all options open that landed me the current position that I have now. Certainly, the only focus when we go to dive school is to become a diver. It is only when we take a moment to look around and see all the other areas that go into the support of a diving operation, that we see all the different employment opportunities available in this industry.

Would you recommend divers plan for their future beyond diving from the get-go (while they are in School)? What are some recommended courses or actionables that will make the post-diver transition easier?

When I have spoken to the graduates of dive schools, I often tell them that the real learning begins once they leave school. Manage your expectations, learn as much as you can, appreciate the tasks and responsibilities of those above you, and display a positive can-do attitude. Do these simple things, and you will be amazed at how many doors open up for you. Taking advantage of other company-offered courses and advanced learning opportunities will pay dividends down the road. You never know what course, task, operations or experience will assist you with a challenge or employment opportunity that presents itself in the future.