Jean: “The very best moment is when you teach your first open water scuba diver and you see this smile in the face of the person that gives you a great recommendation because you did a good job. This I will never forget.”
Martin: “Go for it! Don’t hesitate, seize the opportunity to travel and see the world both above and below the surface while doing something that you love to earn money.”
There are almost a hundred dive training agencies in the world. Over a dozen specialize in cave diving, even more in technical diving. However, the market is dominated by recreational dive training agencies. Scuba Schools International (better known simply as SSI) has grown in leaps and bounds in Maldives over the span of the last eight years.
In an exclusive interview, we sat with the SSI duo Jean and Martin to get a better idea of what SSI is all about.
1. Tell us about your journey to SSI? How did it all begin?
Jean: After leaving the 9 to 5 world in 1986, I moved to the Maldives. It was my first real diving experience outside of a pool environment. Seeing this underwater world and the islands was fulfilling a dream of transforming my entire life. I remember this magical moment when I decided to go “all-in”, quit my job, sell everything, and kept only 50 kilograms of necessary belongings. Following my passion, I climbed the corporate ladder of success in the diving industry. Never left the Maldives out of my heart, however, diving gave me the opportunity to visit and explore the world and meet people from so many different cultures.
In 2013, the organization I was employed for then decided to change course and shut down several offices in Europe. I was in charge of laying off over 70 people, close friends, people that shared the same passion as me. So I decided to quit and was even thinking of starting my own business in the Maldives. That’s when I had an opportunity to make a presentation about the diving industry in front of a large Mares Distributors group. Knowing the people in charge of SSI and Mares for years, since the industry is very small, and over the years I have carefully understood their vision.
It came out that the vision was following mine and that’s when I decided to join SSI with the aim of helping positioning the organization globally alongside the digital revolution. Also the fact that SSI is close to the field was matching my approach. I am a field person and being close to the market gives you all the knowledge and needs of the people involved helping us constantly improving our offer. It was a decision that I never regretted.
Martin: I first came across SSI in 2012 while working as a scuba diving instructor in Thailand. The dive center that I worked for offered SSI and PADI courses and required that all staff could teach SSI courses. I did what was called a “crossover” to SSI where I learnt the differences in their teaching system and began teaching with SSI straight away. The moment I began teaching SSI courses, I knew that I would never look back. Due to the SSI flexibility, I was finally able to create the best course possible for my students. Creating quality divers was always the biggest priority for me, where safety and standards are worth more than pure certification that counts. SSI provides you as an Instructor and Training Center - the best tools to accomplish this.
2. From where do you draw your inspiration in the diving industry and as a professional diver?
Jean: When you visit countries around the world, see different needs, talk to the pros, dive center owners, and resort operators, you understand where you can improve, add or modify the educational program or curriculum. Not everyone is a scuba diver, however, but when a person enters the water, potentially this person can enjoy snorkeling or freediving and ultimately become a scuba diver. Our strength is that we can listen to the market needs and add more to bring business to our centers. That’s what I also call freedom.
Martin: The underwater world has always inspired me, from the moment I completed my first open water diver course I was hooked. Something that I always came across in diving as a student and as a professional, were centers and instructors that offered cheap and fast courses with no eye for standards and safety. This inspired me to be better and motivated me to always offer the best service that I could, both as a diving instructor and later as a regional manager for SSI Maldives. I know how it is for dive centers and professionals to want to offer the best service but to be blocked by the training agency that they train with, I have been there myself as an instructor and Center Manager. This is where I love SSI as with their training philosophy and my own drive to offer top service, I can make sure the centers get the around the clock assistance that they need to satisfy the high demand of their customers across the Maldives.
3. What are some of the challenges you face in this industry and how do you overcome them?
Jean: The first and biggest challenge is the opportunity to travel freely again. This brings a lot of unknowns in the sector and certainly our support will be needed here. Therefore we have been running over 350 virtual seminars over the past 18 months to prepare our professionals and training centers for this situation. The digital approach is changing the way centers have to position themselves while using the power of social media. So this is definitely something new for them.
When I started diving, travel was not the preferred way to engage in diving (freediving or scuba diving), so diving locally was highly positioned and this was lost over the past years. Today people are discovering that they can dive locally and this has again become an activity they can do outside their holiday.
Martin: One of the biggest challenges changing people’s perception. Many dive center owners are from before the digital age and as they themselves prefer to work with a physical book in hand, they expect and assume that it is what the customer wants. Across the globe we see that this is not true and that 99.9% of customers have a mobile phone, tablet, laptop etc. and bring these with them on holiday and like to use them. So, although the SSI app and digital learning system is welcomed by nearly to all divers and diving students, it can be the dive center owners that are hesitant to make this change. Here I spend a lot of time with all centers to make sure they understand how to use the system, show them the benefits, show them how easy it is to use and most of the time I manage to convince them. The great thing with the SSI app is that all programs are available offline, so even if there are days with bad internet connection, there is no need to go back to paper manuals. It simply works!
4. What are some of your proudest moments in the sphere of diving?
Jean: The very best moment is when you teach your first open water scuba diver and you see this smile in the face of the person that gives you a great recommendation because you did a good job. This I will never forget.
Then of course, having successfully helped positioning several programs, sometimes overcoming a lot of objections and ultimately being able to make a change, makes me very proud. I received several awards and they are all dedicated to the people of the industry that helped me supporting them. But most of all, I would say that I am very proud to meet people around the world and they come and shake my hand and we have a chat together. So they know me and are happy to talk to me, this is the best moment of course to realize that you could leave a little trace.
Martin: My proudest moment has to be the day I passed the evaluation to become an SSI instructor trainer, this is what I had been working towards and I had finally made it after years of dedication, hard work and long nights of learning!
The next proudest moment is when my first lot of instructor candidates passed their instructor evaluation, knowing that I had helped them reach their goals. It’s an incredible feeling to see them grow throughout the newly developed SSI Instructor Training Course from 2018, where modern teaching techniques are used and implemented which gives your candidates the chance to become what they need to be, great diving knowledge facilitators and educators, and not only to pass a bar at the Instructor Evaluation.
5. What would be your key advice to the millennials who are interested in choosing diving as a profession?
Jean: Passion and communication are the first words coming to my mind. If you are an introvert, this job will help you finding contact with the world talking about things that are common. It will help you breaking the barriers of languages, cultures and age.
You’ll be able to position yourself as an authority and well respected person if you do your job with enthusiasm and enjoy every minute with students, divers or anybody aligning with you.
If you are willing to spend every minute on your mobile phone and not talking to people, you are not a good fit for this industry. If you think that you can just take it easy and not take any responsibility, it’s not for you.
You will learn to take responsibility, face various situations, sometimes critical, and you’ll learn so many skills that you will be able to apply in other fields too. The Diving Professional job is one of the most multi-faceted you can have: learning, teaching, communicating, social media relevant and more. And finally there is a huge need for diving professionals around the globe. As soon as a destination is re-opening, the demand is rising tremendously.
Martin: Go for it! Don’t hesitate, seize the opportunity to travel and see the world both above and below the surface while doing something that you love to earn money. Being a diving professional can be a great starting point to your working life, will create good experiences, teach you about responsibility and it can either be something you do for a gap year or two or, like me, you make a career out of it and make it your life. Be open minded, stay current and always be the best of yourself.
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