The funeral industry offers a wide variety of roles, but none so demanding and requiring such a diverse skill set, than that of embalmer. An embalmer needs to be a clinician, chemist, hairdresser and make-up artist, all rolled into one.
Those who have chosen the profession will often say it’s more of a vocation than a job, and certainly isn’t a career someone goes into lightly.
As well as the physical and emotional demands of the job; training to become a qualified embalmer through the British Institute of Embalmers (BIE) is rigorous and extensive, with practical and theoretical examinations.
Perhaps this is why many funeral directors are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit new embalmers to work in-house. Over the years, I’ve seen a definite decline in the number of people applying for embalmer roles and a number of peers have expressed the same issues. I think the reason behind the lack of potential recruits is two-fold, firstly there’s generally less people choosing to become embalmers and secondly, more qualified professionals prefer the flexibility of being a self employed trade embalmer rather than working for just one funeral director.”
So what can be done to increase the number of embalmers coming into the industry?
Recruiting qualified embalmers has become more and more difficult so we took the decision to train our own. By training people from within the company, we can ensure that we maintain our own quality standards and consistency of care, whilst also future-proofing the business against increasing skill shortages further down the line.
Training to become an embalmer is a big commitment and they have to be passionate about wanting to take it on. The BIE training required is extensive, plus there’s sometimes a misconception about exactly what the job entails. Anyone that’s potentially interested is asked to spend a day working with our embalmer Lucy, so they can learn more about what’s involved, as well as hearing first-hand about the training and what is expected of them.
The benefits to training our own staff are numerous, to both us and them. We cover all the costs, which can run into thousands of pounds, and give them study time during the working day to completed coursework so it doesn’t have such an impact on their work/life balance. The fact that they are getting practical, on the job experience, also means that in many cases they are able to complete the course in less time.
As in any sector there’s always the chance that once someone is qualified they may leave and go somewhere else. We ask everyone undertaking external training to sign a training agreement which states that they will remain with the company for a certain length of time after they have qualified, or repay some of the training costs. Plus we find that at Neville Funerals, we have such a great culture that most people love being part of the team and don’t want to leave anyway!
Being able to study as part of the job is a huge benefit for anyone undertaking the BIE course. Neville Funerals’ managing director, Michael Liddle is also the Chairman of the International Examinations Board of Embalmers (IEBE), says: “We’re seeing more and more people starting the course but then dropping out part way through and not taking the final examinations, often because the commitment required around their day job becomes too much.
“Although there are currently around 1300 qualified embalmers who are members of the BIE, it’s difficult to say how many of these are actively practising. It’s common for qualified embalmers to move into more managerial roles as their career progresses. We are very fortunate to have Shaun French who works as a funeral director with us but is also a qualified embalmer so we can call on him to dual role when required.”
He adds: “If we want to ensure we have a new flow of people coming into the industry and training as embalmers, we need to do everything we can to assist them to do so. Training from within, allowing staff time during their day to study and helping with the costs involved are all ways the industry can help encourage more people into the role and increase the number of qualified embalmers.”
Lucy Brennan is Neville Funerals’ in-house embalmer based in Luton. She believes there “are a lot of misconceptions about embalming” and that some people think it’s just preserving a deceased and others that it’s just doing hair and make-up on a body. However she explains its about both of these things, and “a whole lot more”.
She says:“Some people might think what I do is depressing, or that you have to be cold or unfeeling to do the job, but it’s quite the opposite. It’s one of the most rewarding jobs that you could have, to have the honour of a family entrusting their loved one to you in their time of need.
“I often spend time with the bereaved explaining various aspects of our care for their loved one and support them if they have decided to carry out a ritual wash ceremony. It’s important to me that families know I will make sure that whatever happens to the deceased happens with respect and dignity, and that I give them the same care and attention that they would if they were the ones caring for the person.”
Joanne Jago, is one of our newest recruits. She joined the team in the summer as a driver bearer and within just six weeks was given the opportunity to train as an embalmer. She said: “I started as a driver bearer at Luton but the end goal was always to become an embalmer. I never dreamed that I’d be given the chance so quickly. I’m currently studying for my BIE qualification. It normally takes three years but because I’m lucky enough to be able to study and learn on the job, I’m hoping to complete the course in 12 months.
“The job is so fulfilling, you are providing a final service for someone and playing an important part in helping a family say goodbye to a loved one. I can’t imagine ever wanting to do anything else.”
For us, having our own dedicated, in-house qualified embalmers is extremely important. The quality of the service we provide and our continuity of care covers every step of a client’s journey with us, from the first contact to the funeral and beyond. Preparing the deceased for their funeral is a huge part of that and as such, we want to be able to ensure it is carried out to our own exacting standards.
By training our own colleagues we are not only helping to bring fresh talent into the industry but also ensuring we can continue to offer clients the high standard of care and professionalism for which we are renowned.
More information about training to become an embalmer, together with a list of accredited tutors can be found on the British Institute of Embalmers website www.bioe.co.uk