Funeral home apprenticeships.

I had a really interesting conversation with a lady in Canada the other night about funeral education and in particular apprenticeships. It seems that the U.K., US and Canada all have their own ways of getting young people into the profession.

In the US you have to complete a mortuary science degree before entering the industry and starting your apprenticeship. Canada is pretty much the same. In the U.K. however that is not required. School leavers can obtain a modern apprenticeship where by they can work full time and get paid as well as get a college education by either on the job tuition where you are assessed by a tutor? Or you spend one day a week actually in college working towards a diploma or another type of qualification.

The NAFD and the BIE both run embalming and funeral directing diplomas which although are fantastic here sadly are not transferable to some other countries, the US in particular. So if you are a school leader wanting to work in the funeral industry then a modern apprenticeship is fantastic but just be aware of you want to use your qualifications abroad you may not be able to? It’s always best to speak with your careers adviser and the country you wish to work in before making any commitments.


I get lot's of people contacting me all wanting advice on how to get a career started in the funeral industry. Part of the reason for writing this blog was to do exactly that. I know only all too well how difficult it is to get into the funeral industry and there is very little out there as far as career advice goes.

So here it is. My very own funeral careers advice centre! I'm not saying I have all the answers and I do not hold the keys to a garunteed position at a funeral home. But I will do my best to be as honest and as up front as I can be to help you achieve your dream of becoming a mortician, funeral director embalmer or any other death care professional within the UK

Jobs in death care in including the funeral indistry.

So lesson number one is to establish what career options are out there for anyone wanting a job in the death care industry. Most people will onlt think of funeral homes as the main places to go whne wanting a job in this industry. That is true to a certain point. Don't forget you have cemeteries, crematoriums, hospital mortuaroes, coroners mortuaries, memorial masonary and specialist repatriation firms.

Let's start with the hospitals and coroners mortuaries: To get a job in the NHS as a mortuary technitian is no easy task. Ideally they are looking for people with some sort pf medical backgrpund such as medicine or nursing. However this is not essential as you can enter with no qualifications or training. You will be required to study to be an APT (Anatomical Pathology Technitian). This will require university level study so is not for the academically challenged. The same goes for the coroners mortuaries.

As far as the funeral indistry goes there are more options open. The roles on offer are: FSO (Funeral Service Operative), Funeral Arranger, Funeral Director, Embalmer, Crematorium Operative, Gravedigger and Memorial Mason. All of these jobs can be done at entry level and you can gain goverment recognised qualifications in your line of work. The funeral indistry has it's own mortuary schools and funeral directing colleges. The main ones being the NAFD (National Association of Funeral Directors) The BIE (British Institute of Embalmers) and the BIFD (British Institute of Funeral Directors). They all run their own courses in their respective fields. As far as masonary is concerened I am afraid I can offer very little advice in that particular sector.

Each company will also have it's own preferred method of training. Some will not offer formal eduacation as it is quite costly and time consuming and some will insist on it. You will have to get all of this information from your future employer when going for interview? The unique thing about the funeral industry is that unlike in some countries you do not need to hold any qualifications to practice. This is something that the industry is trying to get the goverment to change but it is a slow working progress.

Colleges and Schools!

As in most walks of life if you want to learn something you have to go to school. We are sent to school at an early age to learn the basics then after that we have the opportunity to study further in whtever subject we choose? The funeral indistry has it's very own schools and colleges set up arpund the world. In America these are large institutions which have hundreds if no thousands of students walk through their doors every year. In the UK though this is a little less grand. We do not have the schools and colleges that are in the states but we have some. We orefer the free lance tutor methos with distance learning as apposed to being stck in a class room all day. 

Now there are a number of ways in which you can get yourself into one of these school or on the books with a tutor. The first one is to approach a tutor yourself, pay them a large some of money and they will teach you how to become either a funeral arranger, funeral director or embalmer? They do this by giving you the textbook to study and assesing your work usually once a month? If a tutor has a school then he or she may hold classes or lectures at their premises?

For instance when I was training to an embalmer I travelled to Salisbury on a weekly basis to attend a night class where the tutor taught the theoretical practice of embalming. I was given a textbook to study and a record of achivement to keep my course work in. Then when one module was completed I would have to travel to the college again to sit the exam. This sequnce of events was repeated until the course was complete. As far as the practical side of things was concerend I had to find most of the bodies myself to embalm. I would carry out the embalming and submit a report to the tutor for him to mark. Sometimes the college would provide a body for students to practice on. In that situation students would go to the college and embalm the bopdy under the supervision of the tutor then submit a report. Once a satisfactory number of practical work had been completed then a practical exam would be taken and at the end if the student passe then they would be presented with their certificate. 

That all seems very simple doesn't it? Well it isn't! I'm afraid studying embalming is hard going! You need to be dedicated 100% or you will not pass the course! You will need to know an awful lot about chemistry, human anatomy, the biology of living things, the history of embalming and the ethics of embalming. It s not an easy course to do and it is an extremely expensive course to do as well

I can only coment on embalming school. I do not know what the funeral directing side of things is like? I am told that it is a thorough course in the respect that every aspect of the business is covered and you do need to know an awful lot of things including embalming, arranging a funeral, condisting a funeral, legal paperwork, religious customs, business studies and costings. Obtaining funeral service qualifications os great and can give your career a boost especially if you intend to move around a little? But they are not essential. You do not need them to be a funeral director, arranger or embalmer. They help but are not essential and unlike in some states in America are not a legal requirment.

All I will say is that before you go and pay for one of these courses yourself do your homework. Research the courses, speak to ex pupils of colleges. Speak to tutors and students of tutors get theri perspective on things. The kast thing you want to do is to spend out a lot of money for a course you will hate doing because it did not live up to your expectations.

The other way to obtain any of these quaifications is to get your boss to pay for them! But be warned this will come with strings attatched! Most employers will be more than happy to put their employees through college because it looks good on them and you will be more inclined to stay with them after you have qualified. But if you are thinking of jumping ship after you graduate then think again! Some employers especially smaller fimrs will make you sign a contract stating that after qualifying you will stay with the company for a number of years. This is so the company can recoup their investment! If you leave either before you qualify or strait after then you could be liable to pay back the entire cost of the college course. And just to note if your studying to be an embalmer that could run up tp about £10,000!!!! But if you are happy with your employer and things are going good then take advantage of their offer and enrol in college and enjoy the experience but be prepared for some hard work!

Jobs in the Funeral Sector.

In this section I will outline what jobs are availible in the funeral sector and what duties you will be expected to carry out.

* Funeral Service Operative (FSO). This is what some may call the lowest rung on the funeral ladder as far as working in a funeral home is concerened? An FSO was commonly called Driver/Bearer as years ago this was all you where expected to do. Drive on funerals and carry coffins. Nowadays the the role has developed and become a full time occupation. FSO's will drive funeral cars, act as pall bearers on funerals, line out coffins, collect deceased from hospitals, hospices, coroners facilities and private residences. It is the most diverse role in the funeral industry and will give the new comer the best opportunity to expirience all aspected of the business.

* Embalmer. The embalmer role can be established in two ways. As an independent free lance self employed embalmer where you will travel from funeral home to funeral home to embalm the dead. You can work your own hours and pay your own wage. However the hours are long, the work can be demanding and stressful as well as unpredictable. The other way of doing this is to become an in house embalmer and work full time in a funeral home. You will be stationed at one place where your only job will be to embalm depending on how big the company is? Some smaller companies may inclide embalming as part of the FSO's role but this is not always the case. In order to work as an embalmer you will need training although there is no requirment in UK law for practitioners to be qualified. Formal college training usually takes between two to three years and at the end of it you will be a qaulified embalmer holding a certificarte from the British Institute of Embalmers.

* Funeral Arranger. The role of funeral arranger can be a role all by itself or can be a joint role with that of the funeral director. This will depend on which funeral company you are working for? The larger multi national companies will employ funeral arrangers as individual roles. Smaller companies will incorparate with the funeral director. Funeral arrangers will be responsible for arranging all funerals so a good telephone manner and computer literacy is essential. You have to be a people person and will have to cope with a wide range of situations. Families can be understandibly difficult to deal with sometimes so will have to have a strong personality. You will be expected to deal with third parties outside of the funeral home also. These will include the clergy, crematorium operators, doctors, hospitals, coroners officers and many, many more. It is a great role and an truly rewarding one and one that will bring comfort and support to many families.

* Funeral Director. Funeral Directors are the ones responsible for conducting the funeral on the day. In bigger firms that is all that they will do. They will not have anything to do with a family and in some instances the only time they will meet a family will be on the day of the funeral itself! But in smaller firms funeral directors will also be funeral arrangers. They will oversee a funeral from start to finish. I deally this is what you should be aiming for if you want to be a funeral director. Usually they can turn their hand to most tasks in the funeral home and they are the ones to go to if you need help or advice on any aspect of a funeral especially where legal paperwork is concerend. Now you do not need to haver any qualifications or licenses to be a funeral director and training can be givebn on the job. But for thise who want to get a quaification in funeral directing then you can do so. To be a funeral director is a very rewarding and noble career. It is an emotional job that can take it out of you but it is well worth it if that at the end of the day you can make someone elses suffering a litle easier.

Trade Embalmers vs In House Embalmers.

Upon completing mortuary school in the UK there are two paths you can go down to be a professional embalmer. You can either be a free lance. trade embalmer? Or you can be an employed in house embalmer? Both are as equally rewarding as eachother, both have theor own unique challenges.

So let's start with trade embalming what does the job entail? Well first of all a trade embalmer will have to be a motivated, self driven individual who has determination and a passion for working long hours. Trade embalmers are free lance and therefore are self employed. the go from funeral home to funeral home embalming the dead and charging the funeral director for their services. The work can be physically and emotionally demanding, but incredibly rewarding and satisfying. Trade embalmers are highly skilled and qualified individuals who take their work very seriously and are dedicated professionals.

What are the pros and cons of being a trade embalmer?

Pros: You get to work your own hours and can earn as much or as little as you like? You can decide how much annual holiday you want to give to yourself? You are your own boss. So you will have no manager or supervisor breathing down your neck telling you what to do and where to go! You decide on what uniform and equiptment you want to use? You will get immense job satisfaction from carrying out your work as a trade embalmer. If you get a good reputation then your workload will continue to grow.

Cons: The trade embalming market is a very tough and competetive market to get into. The hours can be long and the work unpredictible? You will not get paid for any holiday you take or for any sickness leave taken. Some trade embalmers may feel that they have to rush from one funeral home to the other to make up their money? The harsh reality is is that time is money to a trade embalmer and the sooner they get one case done the sooner they can get onto the other to make more money. Not all trade embalmers opoerate this way though. The best thing to do os to speak to one to find out what the situation os regarding this? All equiptment is your own which means you are responsible for it. Some pieces of embalming equiptment can be expensive to replace if it breaks? This could eat into your profits? You may find yourself working into the night past office closing hours meaning spending time away from your family?  

Now lets look at In house embalming. An in house embalmer is an employee of a funeral home. Sometimes depending on how big the company is in house embalmers may do another job like funeral service operative, funeral director or even workshop forman alongside embalming? If you work for a much larger company then you may find yourself in the embalming room all day every day? Your hours will be set along with your wages? Some companies will pay you a fixed feeor some may have you on an hourly rate of pay? Lets take a look at the pros and cons.

Pros: In house embalmers are funeral home employees. You will have a garunteed wage at the end of each week or each month. Your holidays will be paid for along with any sickness leave. UK law now states that companies have to offer their employees a pension scheme so you will benefit from this should you choose to accept it? Your working hours will be set. Anything over will be paid to you as over time. As an in house embalmer you will have the added luxury of not rushing cases and will be allowed to take your time to prepare a body to the best of your ability. All equiptment used is the responsibility of the company so they will have to replace it if it gets broken. 

Cons: You will not be your own boss. You will be at the beck and call of someone else. Holiday leave will be limited. Usually to only four weeks a year, but this depends on the company you work for? You will be told when you can start work and when you can finish.

Whatever your decision there are pros and cons on both sides. But please remeber this. No one role is better than the other. Funeral homes in the UK could not exist without the great works of both trade and in house embalmers. Both sets of professionals are extremely dedicated and committed to their work. Both offer rewards far greater than money, both are qually respected in the industry as eachother. Both are trained to the highest level of funeral service education. I think the only thing that seperates them is time and expirience. Both can be gained by anyone wanting to embark on such a wonderful and rewarding career.