Could you be a funeral director?
Starting a job in the funeral industry can provide a rewarding and diverse career.
There are only two certainties in life: death and taxes – and so in the same way that there are jobs dedicated to welcoming newborns into the world, there is a whole industry devoted to the end of life, too.
The current value of the UK funeral market stands at £1billion and, with more than 600,000 funerals taking place each year, working within in the industry could provide a successful – albeit unusual – career path.
More than meets the eye
There’s much more to coordinating a funeral than simply selecting flowers and the coffin (although these are important decisions to be made); these responsibilities are dealt with by funeral service organisations on behalf of the deceased person’s family, taking the pressure away from them during this period of mourning.
Unlike many other family affairs, an air of sadness understandably tends to come hand-in-hand with funeral procedures. The majority of those planning a funeral for their loved one will be emotionally fragile, grieving and not in the best position to make arrangements, so the funeral directors – and all other employees – that assist in proceedings need to be sensitive, open and comforting to their clients.
Understandably, a career in the funeral business will not suit everyone. Being able to deal with death in a matter-of-fact, yet understanding, way is essential: you must be a support for your customer, and not let yourself get emotionally involved.
It might be surprising to learn that there are not any industry-specific qualifications required to work within the funeral business, but certain skills are sought-after: namely administrative and business experience. You need to be able to demonstrate excellent organisation and management ability, an exacting eye (you can’t afford to miss a single detail) and a personable approach. Building relationships with customers is one of the premier responsibilities of those working in the funeral business – death, after all, is a sensitive subject.
Although there aren’t stringent academic requirements for a role in this industry, it is possible to gain nationally recognised qualifications during your career to progress your path, and your own personal development. The National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) (www.nafd.org.uk) – the professional body for funeral directors – offers a foundation certificate in funeral service, and a diploma in funeral directing,
Gaining these industry-specific qualifications is a great way of improving your theoretical knowledge and then coordinating and implementing this new information hands-on in the workplace. Some employers may even subsidise or pay for the cost of gaining such a qualification.
So, if this is a field that interests you, it’s helpful to find out potential development opportunities available within a job.
Average salary: £15,000 – £30,000
The role of funeral director is one that requires optimum organisation. Overseeing the arrangements of a funeral service for a family needs to take their requirements into consideration, as well as combining this with a business-minded approach. Religious beliefs, for example, form an important part of proceedings and may affect the type of memorial – and so an understanding of a variety of social and religious backgrounds will prove critical.
As well as the tangible side of a funeral service (arranging floral tributes and refreshments), the fiscal element, legal requirements and death notices are all integral to a service being efficient. The funeral director will be fully involved on the day of the service, too: this may involve driving the hearse, pall-bearing (carrying the coffin) and receiving donations on behalf of the family; you will follow the process from the very beginning to the service itself.
The working hours of a funeral director can greatly vary: from evening work to nine-to-five office hours (including weekends). For this reason, many work on a rota system to ensure that someone is on hand 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Average salary: £12,000 – £18,000
The process of embalming is one that remains a mystery to many, but it’s a crucial part of the funeral process. The embalmer is responsible for sanitising, presenting and preserving the body of the deceased, as well as consulting with the family to make sure their wishes are met during this process.
This is not a career choice to be taken lightly. It’s a challenging role, that will expose you to the realities of death. As an embalmer, you will need to develop practical skills and, in some instances, may have to carry out reconstructive work – similar to that in plastic surgery – to restore the deceased to the family’s requirements.
For this reason, previous experience in the funeral industry – whether in a mortuary or a more administrative role in a funeral service organisation – will help familiarise with you the working environment, and benefit your applications.
It is common for embalmers to study for professional qualifications as they work, whether that be a diploma or skill-specific course, but there are no academic requirements needed to start this role. It is likely you will begin as a trainee or assistant embalmer.
Words: Jessie Bland
[This article was originally printed in Jobs & Careers with Hilary Devey magazine in November 2012]