Approximately 4,000 commercial divers are employed in the United States. The major employers of divers and diving technicians are companies in search of petroleum and natural gas from undersea oil fields. Hydroelectric power generating plants, dams, heavy industry, and sanitation plants that have cooling water lines or water discharges are also a source of work for divers and surface crews. Certain ship repairs, usually of an emergency nature, require divers who can repair the trouble at sea or in dock, without placing the ship in dry dock to correct the problem. Some also work as diving instructors at diving schools or at resorts.
While some work is being done in aquaculture, marine culture, and ocean mining, these areas are currently relatively undeveloped. While the potential for these fields is great and the possibilities for divers exciting, the total employment in these areas is presently small.
Commercial diving contractors, where the majority of divers and diving technicians seek employment, have in the past recruited personnel from U.S. Navy training programs, informal apprenticeship programs, and through personal contacts. These employees had to learn on the job.
As diving technology advanced and diving equipment and techniques became more sophisticated, contractors looked more and more to schools to provide qualified entry-level help. Today, most commercial diving contractors primarily rely on approved schools to meet their entry-level personnel needs. Some contractors will hire only graduates of diving training programs.
Schools with diving technician programs usually have three or more staff members with professional commercial diving experience. These instructors keep abreast of the diving industry through occasional summer work, consultation, and professional and personal contacts. These contacts enable them to assess industry needs and to offer job placement help.
Major offshore contractors and other potential employers may visit schools with diving programs each year before graduation to interview prospective employees. Some employers offer summer work to students who have completed one year of a two-year program.
Some employers contact schools whenever they need additional diving personnel. The school staff then directs them to interested job seekers. While many graduates find jobs in oil-drilling operations or other large industries, a few graduates find positions as diving school instructors, marine culture technicians, photographers/writers, marine research technicians, and submersible pilots.
You can also enter a diving career by joining the U.S. Navy and Army, Army Corps of Engineers, or Merchant Marine. Some U.S. military operations for salvage, recovery of sunken ships, or rescue require deepwater divers and life-support skills. Usually Navy, Army, and other experienced military-trained diving personnel can obtain civilian employment, but they often need to learn a wider range of skills for underwater construction or other work.
A well-trained, highly motivated diver or diving technician can expect to advance steadily, depending on personal competence and the employer's needs. Over a three- to five-year period a technician may be a shop hand, a tender (tending equipment and maintaining gear), a combination diver/tender, a diver, lead diver, and possibly supervisor of a diving crew. Or a technician may advance from surface support duties to supervisor of surface support or supervisor of a diving crew, possibly within three to five years. The nondiving life-support career, however, is much more limited in terms of employment opportunities than the combined diving and support career. Management opportunities within the company are also a possibility for qualified divers. Those who want greater opportunities for earnings, independence, and growth may start their own business as a contractor or consultant.
Read UnderWater magazine (http://www.underwatermagazine.com) and the e-newsletter UnderwaterToday (http://www.naylornetwork.com/adc-nwl) to learn about the various underwater contracting industry segments.
Attend industry trade shows such as Underwater Intervention (http://www.underwaterintervention.com) to learn more about the industry and network with potential employers.
Talk with diving professionals about their careers. Ask them for advice on getting a job in the field.
Visit http://careers.adc-int.org/jobs and https://www.naui.org/careers for job listings.