Funeral Director

The Job and What's Involved

Funeral directors make all the necessary arrangements for burials and cremations. They are relied upon to give practical advice and support to family and friends of the deceased person, which requires plenty of compassion. They oversee arrangements for the body to be transported to the place of rest and assist the family to make all of the detailed funeral preparations, which often include:

  • Arranging the funeral date and time with the church, cemetery or crematorium.
  • Supplying written estimates of funeral costs and advising on financial support that might be available.
  • Organising caskets, flowers and transport.
  • Advising on suitable venues and catering facilities where mourners can gather after the funeral.
  • Organising death notices, press acknowledgements and obituaries.
  • Advising on legal requirements and helping clients complete necessary paperwork.
  • Preparing the body for burial or cremation, which may include embalming.
  • Arranging and being present during visits to the place/chapel of rest.
  • Dealing with floral tributes and accepting charitable donations.
  • Traveling in the hearse at the time of the funeral.
  • Making sure everything runs smoothly during the ceremony.
  • Advising on types of memorials.

If necessary they may advise on coroners' procedures. In some firms, a funeral director may carry out all of these duties. In others, funeral service operatives, assistants, co-ordinators and arrangers will manage specific aspects.

Funeral directors liaise with a wide range of people, including ministers of religion (of all faiths), the medical profession, and cemetery and crematorium staff.

Funeral directors may work around 39 hours a week, but they have to be on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They may work a rota system covering variable hours. Part-time work is often available.

Most administrative work is carried out during office hours. However, it is important for funeral directors to be available to offer comfort, guidance and advice to bereaved relatives and friends of the deceased outside of office hours.

Funeral directors are based at funeral-home offices and workshops. Attending funerals may involve being outdoors in all weather conditions.

Travel in the local area is necessary. Occasionally travel may be required further afield.

Starting salaries for funeral service operatives may be around £14,000 a year. Qualified and employed funeral directors would typically earn around £25,000 a year, with some salary packages providing the potential to earn £30,000 or more.

Self-employed funeral directors may earn much more than £30,000; however, earnings do vary between seasons.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 3,000 funeral companies in the UK. They employ between 15,000 and 17,000 people on a full-time, part-time or casual basis. Employment has remained stable for some time. There are more opportunities in large cities than in rural areas.

There are a few large organisations that provide funeral services throughout the UK, with local branches based in large towns. Otherwise, firms tend to be independent or family-run businesses.

Vacancies are advertised in The Funeral Director Monthly, The Journal and, occasionally, in local newspapers and Jobcentre Plus offices.

Education and Training

No formal qualifications are needed for entry. Some employers may prefer applicants with GCSE's (A*-C), including English. Qualifications in maths, chemistry, biology and religious studies may be useful.

Many begin their career as funeral service operatives or assistants before progressing into a management role. Working for a firm of funeral directors on a casual basis as a pallbearer or driver may provide some experience, which may lead to a more permanent job.

Large organisations work with schools and colleges to provide placements for people interested in finding out more about the funeral profession. Local funeral directors may also provide work experience opportunities.

The University of Bath offers a foundation degree in funeral services. Study is for two years full time or three years part time. Candidates who complete the foundation degree may continue for a further year to gain a BSc in funeral services.

Entry to the foundation degree is usually with a Level 3 qualification, such as a BTEC National Award / Certificate / Diploma, an Advanced Diploma, A levels, an NVQ Level 3 or an Advanced Apprenticeship. People without formal qualifications may be accepted with a minimum of two years' relevant work experience. Applicants need to be employed in the funeral industry, or must secure a 32-week work placement with a relevant employer.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Funeral directors often have to drive, so a full driving licence is usually essential. Some insurers require drivers of hearses and limousines to be over 21 or 25 years of age. Physical fitness is important, owing to heavy lifting and long durations spent standing.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training is normally provided in the workplace under the guidance of experienced staff. There is usually some form of induction training. Larger organisations have formal training programmes, while entrants to smaller firms are likely to learn through experience.

Once in work, entrants can study for qualifications in funeral directing offered by the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD). There are three course levels:

  • Foundation Certificate in Funeral Service - an entry-level course aimed at operatives and assistants, plus funeral directors who intend to study for the Diploma in Funeral Directing.
  • Diploma in Funeral Directing (DipFD) - for funeral directors with a Foundation Certificate who are working in the funeral service for a minimum of 80 hours a month. Before the Diploma can be awarded, candidates must have had at least two years' practical funeral directing experience and have personally arranged at least 25 funerals.
  • Diploma in Funeral Service Management (DipFSM).

NAFD have recently introduced two vocational qualifications for members who wish to train by being assessed in the workplace. Aimed at staff working in funeral operative roles, as funeral arrangers and administrators, or as a driver/bearer they include:

- Advanced Certificate in Funeral Services
- Advanced Diploma in Funeral Arranging and Administration

The British Institute of Funeral Directors (BIFD) is responsible for providing tutors for these qualifications throughout the UK. Training is available by part-time college attendance, often in the evening, or distance learning, which can be tailored to meet the needs of the student.

Other qualifications are available for people working for Co-operative Funeral Services, through the Co-operative College. These are Level 3 Edexcel-accredited qualifications:

- Certificate in Funeral Services
- Advanced Diploma in Funeral Arranging and Administration
- Professional Diploma in Funeral Directing

Some funeral directors may train in embalming. In addition, there are courses in areas such as customer care, understanding bereavement, business management and advanced driving.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A funeral director should have:

  • Excellent communication, listening and people skills.
  • A dignified, respectful and serious manner.
  • Compassion and empathy.
  • Understanding and acceptance of different religious and cultural beliefs.
  • Strong organisational ability.
  • Attention to detail.
  • A flexible, approachable manner.
  • Emotional strength to cope with other people's distress.
  • A smart, conventional appearance.
  • Good overall management skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

There may be prospects in larger organisations to become a branch, area or regional manager. In smaller firms, it may be necessary for a funeral director to change employers to progress and gain further experience. Becoming self-employed and establishing a funeral business is always a possibility, although the financial outlay for this is quite considerable.

The DipFSM is available through NAFD for those wishing to progress to management-level positions. Candidates must either hold the Diploma in Funeral Directing or be Full Members of BIFD. With this experience, it may be possible to become a tutor for NAFD, helping to prepare students for qualifications.

Get Further Information

The British Institute of Funeral Directors (BIFD),
1 Gleneagles House, Vernon Gate,
South Street, Derby DE1 1UP
Tel: 0800 032 2733
Website: www.bifd.org.uk

National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD),
618 Warwick Road, Solihull,
West Midlands B91 1AA
Tel: 0845 230 1343
Website: www.nafd.org.uk

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