In a few of my posts I have mentioned NVQs in diving. I felt it may be worth explaining this in more detail for those who weren't in the industry at the time. Around 15 years ago the then Government wanted to encourage the general population to gain more qualifications. They came up with National Vocational Qualifications. They still exist today. The idea was you could gain qualification from what you already did. If you did administration all day an assessor would come in with a checklist, evaluate what you did and after completing many modules you would gain a certificate in your specialist area. The colleges that offered these received payments from the Government for providing the "training."
Quite how someone linked this to the PADI Open Water course I can't recall. I remember that once you had completed your student record file there were a few extra learning agreements to enrol you at the aforementioned college. You then paid £99 or £49 rather than the full course price. During the course there was a few hours worth of course work, which as instructors we had received extra training to become NVQ assessors to mark this course work. This would then be sent to a company who facilitated the whole system and we would be paid a few weeks later another few hundred pounds for the training. Now, the students didn't care about the training or the NVQ certificate they earned only that they got a cheap diving course.
For a couple of years I ran back to back open water courses rarely that we're not full with 8 customers on. I am sure most UK dive schools today cannot boast 16 new students week in, week out. This was the case all over the country, hundreds of new divers being created weekly. It all seems on the face of it a perfect solution. The dive industry got more customers, the Government issued more certificates, everyone won. However as quickly as it started the funding was stopped. We had generated thousands of divers who thought scuba diving was worth £99. For some this was a bargain, for the majority they could not or would not pay the full price so dropped out of diving. They could not afford to be divers.
We were so busy creating new divers the industry almost forgot about continuing education. As instructions we work on the rough metric that one in three students should progress to the next level. However our pyramid had thousands on the entry level and a few on the next (at that stage the Advanced Open Water course). Equipment sales ceased, at £99 to become a diver the economies of buying a mask, snorkel and fins for the same seemed expensive, bad value so they walked away from diving. These students only had £99 invested in scuba, so failure was not expensive for them. It was just an experience, if they qualified as divers great, they had bragging rites, if they didn't they didn't care as it was less than a cheap night out. I recall before I enrolled as an NVQ centre holding out, not wanting to cheapen what I offered (like many others also tried to do). But the tide was too strong, customers flooded in wanting £99 courses, I didn't offer them, fine, they would travel to get them. I had to either get on the boat or sink. I know many dive centre owners who had the same dilemma. Those that did survived, those that didn't, most failed.
If a similar system was to reappear today would I sign us up to it? Damn right I would. Morals are great but they rarely pay bills. I would jump on early and wait for the wave to die as it will invariably do. However this time we know the failings, we can work as an industry to include continuing eduction and equipment sales. Look at the big supermarkets they don't offer promotions because you can't afford to shop there, they offer them to get you in the store, to feel good about shopping there. If the opportunity arises again we need to do the same. Please post your comments here on he blog, whilst Facebook etc are great the comments and thoughts are lost over time so post your thoughts here so we can refer back to them in future.