Are we “Turning the Corner?”

Foundation Partners why I partnered

In the last few weeks I have heard and seen a lot about about staffing issues in the death care world.  For instance, I recently had a discussion with Ryan Thogmartin of Connecting Directors and he told me that their surveys from owners and managers indicate that staffing, employee issues, and just simply getting enough people to do the jobs that need to be done in funeral homes is the number one concern of these management people at this time.

And, I have visited with regional operators who have told me the same thing.  I also was at a death care event with about 100 others and it seemed like every one at the event was talking about the difficulty in getting employees.  Finally, I’ve seen a regional operator list employment opportunities nationwide with $20,000 and $30,000 sign-on bonuses. . . .That’s something that didn’t happen in our profession before.

The current situation does make some sense.  Being involved in a funeral business during the Covid pandemic was difficult and many who were near retirement seemed to retire early and those who were not sold on the profession also left in record numbers.  So, like a lot of other businesses, funeral service is short of employees. . . . and then consider the fact that funeral directors need special training and you can easily imagine the shortage out there until our numbers pick up.

It’s interesting to note that all over America, in most professions, we have more job openings than we have hires.  The recent graph below from Yahoo Finance illustrates that and let’s owners and managers know how much leverage potential employees have over the job market at this time.  i.e. they can pick their spots.  On the graph, the Yellow line illustrates “Job Openings” and the Green line indicates “Job Hires”.  While this is a general employment graph, I’m of the opinion that death care, of itself, is in the same predicament.  I would guess that all of us would have a hard time remembering a time when the employment situation was so drastically “out of whack”!



But, I’m also wondering if we will soon be turning the corner.  NFDA’s Memorial Business Journal (MBJ) reported in its May 5, 2022, edition that the American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE) reported a staggering 31% increase over 2020 in new Mortuary Science student enrollees.  That number is also 5.6% higher than the previous high number enrolled way back in 1996.

According to the MBJ article, “Historically, between 2011 and 2018, new enrollment showed a gradual dip – from 2,917 students in 2011 to 2,359 in 2018 (a 19.1% decline).”  The number of new enrollees for Fall 2021 was 3,395.. . .that’s over 1,000 more than in 2018!!

It may be that a change in how one gets educated has had something to do with the numbers.  Robb Smith ABFSE executive director is quoted in the article as saying this, “Since COVID forced every institution to pivot to remote learning, a growing number of students is recognizing distance learning as a viable option.”

Brad Green
Park Lawn CEO

On the same front – the question of if the employment situation may be turning the corner, I noticed a comment from Park Lawn Corporation CEO J. Bradley Green last week during the company’s Earnings Call.  (By the way, Funeral Director Daily will be reporting tomorrow on the Park Lawn Corporation’s 1st quarter of 2022).

Here’s what CEO Green said in answer to a stock analyst’s question about employment and wages, “. . . I know this is contrary to what you’re probably hearing and reading, both of those are beginning to relax for us everywhere except for where the corporate offices are. So, I think our folks at the field location and business location level are doing a very good job with both of those issues. I think we’re starting to see even more candidates come across in, what’s normally a very competitive funeral director world.. . . . So, I would say less pressure than we’ve seen in the past. I know that’s not what you’re probably hearing in other companies, but that’s what we’re seeing on the ground and if it changes next quarter and you ask me, I’ll change the answer. But right now, I’m feeling pretty good about it.”

So, while it is still difficult to find employees. . . . maybe there will be a new day dawning soon in that situation.

Related Information–  Here’s some interesting numbers from the American Board of Funeral Service as published in NFDA’s Memorial Business Journal:

  • 50.66% of new student enrollees are between the ages of 21 and 30
  • 27.9% of all new student enrollees are Male
  • 72.1% of all new student enrollees are Female
  • 14.49% of all new student enrollees come from a “Funeral Service family”

An interesting observation –– In talking to one regional firm CEO, he mentioned to me that “lack of staff” is becoming an adverse factor in acquisitions.  The point being, if an owner would like to sell his business without continuing management staff in place, the difficulty in finding staff and management may well decrease the value of the business sale.  As long as I’ve been in the death care profession, I don’t think that observation ever came up. . . Interesting.


Related — NFDA’s “A Brush with Death” podcast features recent college graduates from mortuary science programs across the country.  Here’s what NFDA says about its Episode #37:  “This month Gabe speaks with four promising new graduates from across the country to shed some light on the life of a mortuary school student. The students discuss National Board preparation, final exams, assignments, and venturing out into the funeral profession.”

For more information and to listen to the podcast click here.


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One Comment

  1. At the recent NFDA professional women’s conference in Miami. Attendees took a real time survey on their phones during one of the presentations. They were asked “what’s your biggest challenge in your funeral home” – staffing was the top issue.

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