Thursday, March 1, 2007

Hard Work in Paradise: The Ultimate Summer Job

Hard Work in Paradise: The Ultimate Summer Job

Photos and Story by: Bruce Andrew Peters

Grand Cayman Island, British West Indies

Just a one hour flight south of Miami, Grand Cayman Island is a world of its own. Lying near

the equator, it's Summer here all year long. What could be better you ask? Getting paid to

SCUBA dive, relax in the sun, have a good time with new friends? This sure beats paying

countless thousands to be at this Caribbean Paradise as a guest. Sign me up!

"Not so fast!" say those in the know. High turn over is expected in the hospitality industry. Unfulfilled dreams result in abbreviated stays. Despite long hours and low pay, workers get

a chance to formulate a life plan in an idillic environment.

Tortuga Divers instructor Danny Jetmore, 44, quips "I came to Grand Cayman (four years ago)

when I heard they were going to build a bowling alley. I haven't seen any construction and the customs lady assured me I have the only bowling ball on the island!" What ever the reason for staying, few resort employees can boast of such longevity as Jetmore.

A nearly 40% annual turn over rate in hospitality jobs leaves resort management scrambling.

When asked of his biggest challenge, Westin Casuarina Resort General Manager Roger Weber replied: "Finding quality people." Compounding matters is the Westin's (Grand Cayman) annual growth of 2-3% to compliment the resort's 200,000 annual visitors.

Most island service industry employees cite a high cost of living due to imported consumer

goods and scarce housing, low pay and a lack of career goals as reasons for dissatisfaction.

"Ask what you can do to get ahead," suggests Weber. "Hard work and letting others know

of your goals are key."
Personal matters can interrupt the service of even dedicated employees. "I married the love

of my life, and moved back toTexas for about a year," reports dive instructor Patrick Tracy, 35, "before returning to Grand Cayman." As a chemist in Houston, Tracy kept getting restless.

Diving in the Middle East for six months in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf left him further

removed from mainstream America. "I couldn't get a decent job" (in the United States) he

lamented. While the prospect of a master's degree in aquaculture might get this SCUBA

pro back on terra firma, for now fun work in the tropics wins out.

A dynamic work force comprised of over 100 nationalities gives human resource management

an entirely new perspective in managing those seeking the ultimate "Summer job." With over

35,000 inhabitants, native Caymanians make up roughly one tenth the population. The balance

is comprised of over 100 foreign nationalities, from countries such as Africa, Canada, Australia, Italy, Switzerland, Jamaica and the Unites States. Despite geographic and cultural differences,

ex-patriots all have one thing in common: few will remain for more than a few years. Just hired

as a SCUBA instructor, Chad Craig, 25, of Santa Barbara, California arrived sight-unseen.

"I don't like to stay anywhere too long. I feel like I am missing out on something somewhere

else." These restless sentiments are a recurrent theme among those in Cayman's hospitality industry.

Upbeat and optimistic, Red Sail Sports' Walter Findley, 42, left Scotland's cold and dark

waters to serve as Dive and Watersports Director. "Keeping a large staff with diversified backgrounds asa cohesive unit is my biggest challenge," Findley explains. Compounding

matters is the high turnover. "An average employee lasts six to 24 months. They come down

to live a dream; goofing off in the Caribbean." Understandably, this conflicts with Findley's management goal of "quality service, safety and customer satisfaction."

Long Hours, Low Pay

After five years of bobbing in the sea on dive boats, Kevin Kneafsey of Ireland needed a

break. Receiving just five bucks an hours for the safety and well-being of a boat load of

strangers got old. "Maybe I'll be a fireman" he mused wistfully, when forecasting his future.

But for now, it's time off from 14 hour days. A visit to Los Angeles for a month with family

and friends before returning to Ireland might help formulate a new plan. "Then again, I might

be back," he added. Antonie York, of South Africa cites "money issues" as his impediment

to his next destination: travel in Asia. York, 26, is ahead of his colleagues in that he holds a

plan for the future, no matter how difficult financially.

Happy Employees = Happy Clients

"When an employee is not happy, clients notice," points out Findley. To iron out any service discrepancies, Findley employs retraining, cultural sensitivity and empathic listening.

"Management needs to be easy going, enjoy working with people and possess a sense

of humor. Most important, continues Findley, Keep a close eye on personnel and lead by

example. If training, education and setting standards don't work, it's probably time to tell

that person that we won't renew his contract."

What the Future Holds

Globe trotting from job to job, hospitality vacancies are always being created. Therese

Islef, of Denmark described her one and one half years as "an eternity in Cayman years"

and suggested after another year "on the rock" she will be ready to move on. Where

and what to do are uncertain. Tortuga Diver's Jera Dickson, 23, of British Columbia,

Canada says she "will go to school when I figure out what I want to do." In the interim,

it's SCUBA instruction at Tortuga Divers and venturing where horizons glow brighter.

For more information:

To find out about employment on Grand Cayman Island, contact the Cayman Islands

Department of Tourism at 1-800-346-3313 to request Living in the Cayman Islands and

Immigration Controls Governing Work in the Cayman Islands. The Rates and Facts

Guide to The Cayman Islands provides tourist information on accomodations, resorts,

restaurants and recreation, which could help develop job leads.

About the Author

Bruce Andrew Peters is an internationally published, award-winning photojournalist based in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Peters' work appears in publications ranging from The Los Angeles Times to Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine to Aviation Week and Space Technology to Transport Topics.