Funeral schools gain more students in US amid shortage of workers

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As American industries struggle to fill many jobs in a tight job market, there is at least one type of work where interest appears to be flourishing: funeral services.

Colleges specializing in education for funeral services are increasing enrollment amid a shortage of workers in the sector.

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“The shortage is so serious now that there is a 90% placement rate for graduates of these programs,” said Leili McMurrough, program director at Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Wheeling, Illinois, one of the oldest mortuary schools in the country, which dates back to 1911.

In 2021, nationwide enrollment of new students in accredited mortuary science programs increased 24% from 2020, according to the American Council on Funeral Services Education (CAESF).

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The overall percentage increase in student enrollment in the 58 accredited mortuary programs or institutions in the United States could be even higher this year, said McMurrough, who is also chairman of the American Council on Education’s Accreditation Committee in Funeral Services.

Randy Anderson, president of the National Funeral Directors Association, is aware of the labor crisis and says colleges cannot produce licensed workers quickly enough to meet the need for new hires.

Demand for funeral directors is especially high, and an aging workforce has made it a race against time, Anderson said.

“There is an urgent need to replace those who have been in the profession for many years and are retiring,” he said. “More than 60% of funeral home owners said they will retire in five years. This is too much”.

Currently, the association has more than 20,000 members, and each state has its own learning and licensing requirements, Anderson said. Most states also require funeral directors to graduate from an accredited college or university program.

According to the most recent data from the US government, the funeral industry generates more than $16 billion in the country’s annual revenue. There were more than 18,800 funeral homes in the US in 2021, most of them small private businesses, down from 19,902 in 2010, according to industry figures.

Young women and candidates looking for a second career

Currently, women represent 72% of recent graduates in funeral services, according to the latest figures from CAESF. According to Anderson, “until the 1970s, men dominated. With every decade since then, the number of women entering the profession has increased.”

And they’re younger, too. In Worsham, McMurrough said, the typical student is a woman aged 24 to 29, but many are older candidates looking for a new career.

“There is a lot of interest in this field from women, and that makes sense. Women absolutely have an empathic bent and are perhaps better prepared to help families get through a very difficult life event,” said Ed Michael Reggie, CEO of, an online resource to help families find a funeral home. or crematorium that best suits your needs.

“No one plans to be a mortician unless you have a family member in the business,” Reggie said. “But as a first career, it’s usually not an expensive degree. It’s a shorter program than a full college degree and you can earn anywhere from $60,000 to $75,000 a year.”

Ellen Wynn McBrayer is the funeral director of Jones-Wynn Funeral Home and Crematorium, a third-generation family business with two locations in Georgia. Her grandmother, Shirley Drew Jones, was the first woman to be a licensed funeral director in the state.

McBrayer said her grandmother hoped more women would enter the profession.

“The new and younger people who are coming are also more open-minded about not doing things the same way, but customizing the service to what families want,” McBrayer said. “A funeral is not just a day in the life, but a whole life in a day.”

Several factors are fueling the growing interest in the profession.

At his school, McMurrough said enrollment increased after Worsham began offering his program online two years ago. “It gave people who had another job but were also interested in the field the flexibility to be able to follow it,” she said.

Worsham offers a one-year associate’s degree (tuition $22,800) and a 16-month online associate’s degree program (enrollment $24,800). Eighty percent of the college’s newest group of online course students were women, she said.

Rapid career advancement is another appeal.

These aren’t six-figure level jobs — the median salaries for funeral industry jobs like funeral home managers were $74,000 and $48,950 for funeral directors in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. of Labor Statistics). But “you have the opportunity to advance in just a few years after getting your college degree to becoming a funeral director or even owning your own funeral home,” McMurrough said.

it’s not for everyone

The traps also exist there.

“There are some areas of the profession that have not yet caught up with other industries in terms of competitive salaries. This remains a challenge in recruiting and retaining workers,” said Anderson of the National Funeral Directors Association.

Burnout is another challenge. “At the height of the pandemic, people across the industry were working nonstop, with no days off,” McMurrough said. “But you do it because you care.”

However, many new students said the pandemic has also influenced their desire to serve their communities, McMurrough said.

“So many people have experienced death in the last couple of years in ways they didn’t expect. Families couldn’t say goodbye to loved ones the way they wanted,” she said. “In some cases, funeral home workers have become the last to see those who have passed away instead of their own families. Those moments made an impact on people.”

Hannah Walker, who graduated from Worsham over the summer, is one of them.

“I certainly never planned on graduating from this program, but my grandfather opened my eyes to it,” said Walker, 31, who lives in Michigan. Her experience with her grandfather’s death from prostate cancer, before the pandemic, and his funeral helped her reshape what the experience could be for other families.

So, about two and a half years ago, Walker took the first step, calling several funeral homes and asking if she could accompany one of their employees to get first-hand experience.

“I did this for almost a year and realized it was for me. I cared enough to want to do that,” she said. Walker graduated from Worsham College on Friday and has a job waiting for her at the funeral home, the same one where she accompanied employees for training, for when she finishes her apprenticeship and gets her state license to practice.

“This is not a career for everyone,” Anderson said. “You have to be attracted to that and the opportunity to help your fellow human beings and be satisfied with it.”

Source: CNN Brasil

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