2012-11-14

Working Funerals - Joining the industry

    This has come up a couple of times, where people ask me advice on how to get into the funeral industry.  It isn't a common question, but certainly one worth addressing.  As it also says something about the industry itself.


Why join the industry?
    I get asked this by some, why I recommend working in the funeral industry.  Because it is a good job, the pay isn't great and the work can be hard.  But every day is different and it is decent work, my one year at a funeral home was better than several years in retail.

    If you are thinking of joining the funeral industry then this is the first question you should ask.  About why you want this type of job and what you think it will involve.  For those who want to satisfy a morbid curiosity I do not recommend the funeral industry.  Joining it will ruin the romantic and gothic ideals and expose the simple reality.  I have no personal problems with a morbid curiosity, but the funeral industry is more mundane than morbid.  However, if you have another curiosity, such as how things work, then this might be a good industry for you.

    Either way, the main point of this question is to think if you're really suited for the industry, and if so what you want out of it.  Which brings me to the next point.


Different roles:
    A funeral home has a huge range of skills and tasks, from administration or phone support to mortuary work or conductor.  One could work for a funeral home and never see a funeral or a body, or could only see these.  Plus funeral homes are just one part of a huge industry, there are also coffin manufacturers, cemeteries and crematoriums, transfer companies and so on.


Office Support
    This is possibly the most common job in the funeral industry.  More physical space and staff at a funeral home will be dedicated to office work than most other things.  As with any office there are a number of duties available.  From receptionist or phone support to sales or publicity.  As I write this article TJ Andrews Funerals is looking for a graphic designer.  So there is quite a variety of office work in the industry.

    I include 'arranger' (the person who arranges the funeral with the family) here.  As this is mostly paperwork.  One has to fill in forms, file forms and so on.

Manual Labour 

    In this category I include handymen, gardeners, gravediggers, coffin makers and so on.  For the sake of simplicity and to keep this condensed.  Generally these roles are 'blue collar' and hands on.  They can either be outdoor style work, such as at a cemetery, which is often beautiful.  Or they can be indoor, such as at a coffin maker.  Either way they are often tough jobs, but worth it for the right person.

Funeral Support
    The most obvious job is that of the funeral staff, what people tend to think of as the undertaker.  It involves attending funeral services, maybe driving a mourning car, or driving a hearse, or conducting or just assisting the service.  This is a very 'front of house' style role, with decent customer interaction.  The job also involves getting outside, which can be good and bad depending on the weather.


Mortuary Duties

    Many consider this to be 'dirty', but it is not.  There are different levels of work in the mortuary, from simple mortician to full embalmer.  A mortician is someone who does general preparation work.  Such as closing the eyes and mouth, cleaning the body, dressing the body and coffining the body.  There are courses for this done through TAFE, but they are not required.  An embalmer is quite a different job, and does require specific training and qualification.  This is a very interesting job, well suited to anyone curious about living people or the human body.

Transfers
    This is an often overlooked role, the collection of the deceased.  It involves collecting the deceased from where they died and transporting them to another place.  Be it a funeral home, coroners or so on.  Some might consider this to be 'dirty' work, like the mortuary.  But just like the mortuary it isn't really.  There are unpleasant or dirty moments, but they are not too common.  Also like the mortuary this can be an incredibly interesting and varied job.


Different places to work:

Funeral Home
    This is the first and most obvious place people look at.  Depending on the funeral home there can be a large range of jobs.  Smaller funeral homes tend to require staff do multiple jobs.  For example one staff member might arrange, conduct, drive mourning cars, help in the mortuary, do transfers and so on.  This is because smaller places cannot afford enough staff to specialise.  However, big companies like InvoCare do have special staff.

    One of the bigger issues with a career in a funeral home, especially a small one, is being on-call.  This tends to be rostered, but basically the person on-call has to look after the company phones after-hours.  So through weekends or nights their mobile will be the company phone.  I have noticed how this bleeds into personal life, that professional and personal blend together.  But it is not too much of an issue in most cases.

Transfer Company
    There are transfer only companies, all they do is transport deceased about.  These companies tend to focus on after-hours or long-distance style work.  The sort of stuff funeral homes cannot afford or are hesitant.  Most funeral homes have their own transfer car, and do transfers themselves.  Yet they still turn to transfer companies when busy or when it suits them.

    The transfer companies tend to hire casual staff, and work on an on-call basis.  So one can be called out several times through a night.  Then not get a call for a few days.  Transfer companies tend to pay by the job rather than by the hour.

Cemetery / Crematorium
    These places tend to either employ office staff or blue collar workers.  Of course there are the other groups, but generally speaking the jobs at a cemetery/crematorium can be divided like this.


Skills needed:
    There are few official skills or qualifications needed to work in the industry.  A drivers license is about the only actual restriction for most places.  While there are mortuary courses through TAFE (which do look good on the resume) they are not required.  Embalmer is about the only thing that needs a qualification and training.


Finding a job:
    Finding a job can be a little tricky, but generally most funeral companies will advertise through formal or corporate means, such as Seek.  They very rarely advertise positions through less formal things such as Gumtree.  However, if you are really keen then simply contact different companies.  Ring them up and ask if they have anything.  If you want to work in a specific role, such as transfers, then contact a company which specialises in that.

    There is usually work in the funeral industry if you look for it.  Seek is a good place to find some funeral industry jobs (simply search "funeral").  But directly contacting specific companies would be a good next step.


Where to start:
    Personally, I recommend starting with InvoCare.  It is the largest funeral company in Australia, so it has work in just about every major city (mostly in Sydney).  InvoCare is not the 'best' funeral company to work for, but it is certainly a decent company to work for, they genuinely care about OH&S and employee wellbeing.  Plus it offers a large variety of jobs and the ability to specialise in a role.  One could just do transfers, or just work in an office.

    As I said, InvoCare might not be the 'best', but it is a good place to start.  It will allow one to get a better understanding of the industry on a larger scale.

InvoCare careers page <-- It looks as though this page is having issues.

InvoCare Contact details.

    There are other small funeral companies to work for, which are quite good.  In fact most of them would be decent.  But generally I would suggest InvoCare as it has more jobs in more places, no other funeral company can offer this variety or scale of work.

An~~

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