The question of whether or not PSIA should promote ski lessons seems obvious to me--it should. But exactly HOW it should promote, and WHOM it should promote, are complicated issues.Catch-22
There is a built-in and unavoidable conflict of interest that PSIA does need to consider. As an educational organization, PSIA includes members at varying levels of education, like a university--from newly registered to "graduate." All of them pay dues.
Consider the important differences between the following promotional statements, all of which sound good (to me) on the surface:
- "Take a lesson."
- "Take a lesson from a PSIA pro."
- "Take a lesson from a PSIA Certified pro."
- "Take a lesson from a PSIA Full-Certified (Level 3) pro."
Clearly, "certification" in any arena or profession is meant to identify a standard of excellence that is respected by peers and in which "customers" can have confidence. If PSIA promotes lessons from "PSIA instructors" in general, it promotes all of its dues-paying members. Many of those, obviously, have not (yet) met the any of the standards of excellence that PSIA itself identifies as "Certified." To put it bluntly, promoting "PSIA instructors" advertises a product that is, by our own definition, "substandard." Bad marketing! If the promotion is successful, many skiers will take lessons, but many will be underwhelmed and disappointed. It might produce a quick surge in lesson sales, but would the students return? Would they "spread the word" that PSIA lessons are great? Of course, many of them would not.
So "Take a lesson from a PSIA pro" is probably NOT good advertising! (At least given current realities. See "Solutions" below for a way we might possibly address this reality.)
Now consider the other end of the spectrum: "Take a lesson from a PSIA Full-Certified (Level 3) pro." Clearly (assuming that the Full-Certified pin really does represent a standard of excellence that is sufficiently high and consistent--another discussion), clearly this promotion eliminates the problem of promoting a substandard "product." But can we do that? Probably not.
First, there aren't that many Full Certified instructors around. At least for a while, resorts would have a very hard time staffing the lessons they're selling, and they would be rightfully upset that PSIA was promoting a product that isn't even available. Yes, this might be a good thing in the long run, because it would result in higher pay for Certified pros and ultimately, more pros would become Certified and consider ski instruction a viable career. And better lessons would result in more lessons, yielding more satisfied, passionate students, and more profits for the industry. But in the short term, resorts would justifiably complain of a lack of support.
Most importantly, "Ski with a Full-Certified pro" promotes only a small faction of the organization's dues-paying members. In other words, it suggests that you should NOT take a lesson from a non-Full-Certified pro. Imagine the repercussions among the many PSIA members whose dues are going to promote NOT THEM!
So we can't promote all of the members, because many of them don't meet the standards we have set ourselves. And we can't promote only those who DO meet those standards, without alienating perhaps the majority of our dues-paying members.Two Solutions?
For many years, I thought that PSIA should do more to promote its members. But given the "catch-22" predicament I have described, I am no longer convinced that, as an educational organization, PSIA is in the best position to promote itself. Universities don't usually promote their students--"get an operation from a Harvard medical student." They couldn't and, obviously, they shouldn't!
Perhaps we need two organizations. The second organization could be something equivalent to the AMA (American Medical Association). Its members would be only those who have met certain standards (i.e. Full Certification), and its mission statement would be to promote its members (and "support the ski industry" by assuring and promoting a standard of excellence that students and resorts could believe in). That way, PSIA could focus on what it does best--educate and certify. And the other entity could promote those who have "graduated."
This plan could work, but I'm not sure it's realistic, and I'm not sure it could meet the demand for the number of competent instructors needed to teach all the beginning skiers out there. The job of competently teaching lower level "average" skiers really doesn't require all the skill and the vast "bag of tricks" of Full-Certified, highly experienced pros. There is a place for those with less experience and skill. So...
Plan B: Perhaps PSIA could address the "catch-22" dilemma, and effectively promote its members, with a few internal modifications. We could even keep the current three Certification levels, promoting all Certified instructors, and creating an environment in which less experienced instructors--AND THEIR STUDENTS--could thrive. There is a way!
We would first need to reassess our certification standards, assuring that EACH LEVEL represents a truly high standard of excellence--rather than just stages toward such a standard. Currently, all three certification levels test for varying levels of competence across the same broad range of teaching and skiing skills, including moguls and off-piste. The Level 1 standard is simply a lower standard than Level 3. What if we narrowed the focus of the lower levels, but raised the standard to one of true excellence? What if Level 1 represented a higher standard for a narrower, simpler, more easily attainable, and more job-related range of skills?
What if "Level 1 Certified" meant that this instructor has demonstrated exemplary JOB-RELATED skills needed to introduce the majority of typical students to the great sport of skiing? That job certainly doesn't require mogul expertise, or high-speed dynamic skiing, so why bother certifying that this instructor has demonstrated a minimal standard of "proficiency" in these non-job-related areas, as we currently do? The job involves a basic understanding of the fundamentals of contemporary ski technique, and the ability to demonstrate and teach strong fundamentals at an introductory level.
The Level 1 instructor's job involves teaching typical, average beginning students. Level 1 Certified instructors should not be expected to teach either extremely challenging or extremely talented students, both of which would benefit from the skills of a more seasoned, skilled pro. If new student profiles fit a "bell curve," Level 1 Certified instructors should be highly proficient in introducing skiing to the meat of the curve--not the extremes. Level 1 Certified instructors don't need a big "bag of tricks." They should be excellent
at a very limited range of not-difficult, not athletically-demanding skiing and teaching skills. If that were the standard (it isn't), I would be more than comfortable promoting Level 1 instructors as "Certified" (to do a particular job well), confident that they could represent our organization in a positive, promotion-worthy way.
Levels 2 and 3, then, would represent not higher
standards, so much as broader, more comprehensive
standards. They could teach farther along the shoulders of the bell curve of student profiles, and higher in the skill progression, with more proficiency in facilitating both "linear" and "lateral" learning.
The Level 3 standard, as our "flagship" Full Certification, should still represent a well-rounded and broad skill set, a true dedication to the profession, a comprehensive grasp of teaching theory, and a high and reasonably athletic standard of skiing proficiency. Level 3 instructors' skiing should turn heads on the chairlift--skiers should want to ski like that! And the standard must be consistent--"reliable" to the paying customer. This means we need to address not only the current standard, but also assure currency and consistency among those who have earned the pin in the past (not a simple task).
In any case, only if "Certified" always, at every level, represents a consistent, exemplary standard of proficiency, can PSIA effectively promote "Ski with a Certified Pro." Since the Level 1 standard I have described is easily attainable by just about any instructor who puts some effort into it, I think this would provide an incentive to new instructors to become certified, rather than a sore point because PSIA wasn't promoting uncertified members.
It might even make sense to allow, and encourage, Level 1 Certification training for NON-instructors, to minimize the number of truly untrained "PSIA" instructors teaching lessons. (That our current model requires teaching experience prior to becoming Level 1 Certified virtually assures that there will be incompetent instructors teaching under the PSIA banner!)(continued next post...)