In the last 12 months, over 3 million prospective students viewed courses listed over at The Good Universities Guide. We wanted to know which courses students are most interested in, and how that matches industry demand — it led us to a deep-dive into the funeral services industry!
Health Services and Support is the most highly sought-after sector, with courses like sonography, health science and paramedicine attracting the most interest. When breaking this information down to the certificate level, two surprises appeared in the top five of most viewed courses:
- Certificate IV in Embalming
- Certificate IV in Funeral Services
We had to wonder, is this interest in the funeral-related courses new? No formal qualifications are required for employment, so could this trend be attributed to those already in the industry looking to upskill? Finally, what does all this mean for the would-be funeral attendant or embalmer? We had more questions than answers, so we asked around.
Wendy Goy is the Course Coordinator at Funeral Industry Development Australia (FIDA), a division of Tobin Brothers Funerals. Here, she is involved in Certificate IV in Embalming and Cert IV in Funeral Services, along with Cert II and III in Funeral Operations.
“There are consistent levels of interest in funeral qualifications and enquires regarding employment,” she says. “We receive approximately one unsolicited employment request per day.”
Many of the enquiries that FIDA receive are about obtaining a qualification as a pathway to employment. However, Wendy explains, a prerequisite of entry is that students must be employed at a funeral business before enrolling.
“Many of the assessment requirements cannot be met without access to funerals, equipment and facilities,” she says. For example, completing an embalming case study requires ongoing access to a mortuary and qualified workplace mentor.
It’s important to note that staff turnover in the funeral industry is very low, particularly in businesses who care for their staff as well as they care for their clients. “Many new entrants are mature, entering the industry with life experience and a sense of vocation,” Wendy says. She goes on to explain that once people find the right fit in this ‘ultimate’ customer service industry, many end up staying for 20+ years.
The funeral industry consists of many small family businesses, most of which are staffed by family. “This means vacancies very rare,” Wendy says. “Our main reason for recruitment is [due to staff] retirement after many years of service.”
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Adrian Barrett of William Barrett & Sons in Western Australia is also the Vice President of Australian Funeral Directors Association. He agrees that interest in funeral services as an occupation has seen an increase in recent times.
In Adrian’s experience, this interest comes from all kinds of people, such as school-leavers and people looking for a career change — but possibly the largest cohort is people returning to the workforce after having children. “Traditionally, it was seen by the public as a job for older men,” he says, “but now the majority of funeral service workers are women.”
So if a qualification can't be obtained until someone is employed in the industry, what do funeral homes look for in an employee? “Most make hiring decisions based on personality types and relevant experience in other fields,” Adrian explains. “For example, someone with cosmetic and hairstyling experience would find those skills helpful in a role preparing the deceased.
“Open, empathetic people that are comfortable in engaging with clients [make good funeral workers], as well as people who are good communicators, efficient and can plan and prioritise well.”
For those interested, Adrian's advice is to "contact several funeral homes and ask to meet with a manager who can explain the different roles within the industry and what you can do to prepare yourself for employment, should an opportunity arise.”
While employment vacancies are limited, Adrian admits that “the aging population means that the death rate will increase nationally, meaning more opportunities for employment, and hopefully more avenues for formal training.”