3 Skills They Don’t Teach in Mortuary School


“My Professor said cremation is a fad and will go away soon.”

That was the response I received from one of my client’s new Funeral Director apprentices when I asked what they were taught about cremation at mortuary college.

I was appalled but not surprised.

Statements like that are symptoms of the schism between programs that educate future Funeral Directors and the reality of the profession. In many ways, the programs are designed to equip people with the skills they needed thirty years ago.

Are these skills still needed today? Yes.

Are these the only skills today’s Funeral Director needs? Not even close.

I do not blame the leaders of mortuary programs for failing to equip the next generation of Funeral Directors properly. I simply believe that you cannot teach all of the needed skills in a two-year program regardless of how many hours they spend apprenticing at a funeral home.

I am writing this article in April 2021. We’ve been living in a Covid dominated world for over a year. Unfortunately, it’s impacted every sector of the economy.

Restaurants, hotels, retail, and dozens of other industries have been decimated. Hundreds of thousands of experienced workers have lost their careers and are actively looking for a new opportunity.

This massive pool of experienced workers is the biggest staffing opportunity the funeral industry has ever seen.

Rather than fighting over a handful of recent mortuary graduates, I advise my clients to cherry-pick great candidates from the pool of experienced workers. They often have essential skills you cannot learn in any mortuary program.

In this newsletter, I’ll give you the three skills you need in a new staff member that they don’t teach in mortuary school.

First, a quick disclaimer. Some of these skills might be briefly covered in a mortuary program but mastering the skills takes far more than a three-credit class.

Skill #1 – Event Planning

Planning a funeral used to be pretty straightforward. Schedule the visitation, church service, and graveside service, and you’re all set. This still applies if a family wants a traditional funeral.

However, if the family wants a creative Celebration of Life, you might need someone trained in event planning. They need to be the creative muse who introduces new ideas to the family and helps create a beautiful memorial event.

The good news (for you) is that experienced event planners are readily available in today’s job market. You can hire a good candidate, team them with a licensed funeral director (so that you comply with state laws), and start staging the type of memorial events families want.

Skill #2 – Conflict Management

Do you remember the good old days when most family members behaved themselves during the arrangement conference? It’s not like that anymore, is it?

Today’s society is filled with conflict, and families are no exception. It’s not all that uncommon for funeral arrangements to turn into a pretty ugly event. If you were a fan of the TV series Seinfeld, it’s like every day is Festivus, and they get to air past grievances over and over again.

The family is in the arrangement room, conflict is brewing, and in walks a newly licensed 25-year-old Funeral Director. This doesn’t end well.

Instead, team your Funeral Director with a person who has spent 30 years in retail. They’ve survived 30 years of Christmas shoppers and black Fridays, and they know how to deal with conflict. That’s a team that stands a chance of defusing the situation and helping a traumatized family make a decision they can all accept.

Skill #3 – Leadership

At times of crisis, people always look for leaders to show them the way forward. It’s true for national emergencies, and it’s true for personal catastrophes like the loss of a loved one.

Some people are born leaders. But leadership is also something that you can learn through lots of training and hands-on experience.

Where can you find a leader to add to your team? Simply look for someone who has spent years in that role with a good track record. They could be a Sales Manager, a Customer Service Manager, or from any customer-facing leadership position.

Also, consider someone with a military background. If there’s one experience that can turn a follower into a leader, it’s the military.

Those are the three skills that you can find readily available in today’s job market; event planning, conflict management, and leadership.

Rather than hiring a rookie out of college, hire an experienced person with one or more of these skills. If they work out, you can help them go to mortuary college in the evening and become your next apprentice during the day.

They’ll have a new career, and you’ll have someone with the complete set of skills needed to succeed as a Funeral Director for years to come.

Until next time

John

John Callaghan

Fractional Chief Marketing Officer for Funeral Business Builders

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