Can identifying “Pre-Skills” better your staffing?


Over the past couple of years many in the Death Care profession have identified that there has been a labor issue in funeral service.  Anecdotally, in my opinion, most of that labor issue has simply been in being “short-staffed” on the licensed funeral director/embalmer realm.


There seems to be somewhat of a lull in that short-staffedness at this time, but I wonder if those we are hiring and those coming out of mortuary schools carry the “proper” skill-set to be successful long-term in the Death Care business.  I recently had a mortuary school instructor and reader of Funeral Director Daily contact me about what they see as a lack of certain skills for entering the funeral director/embalmer occupation.


The instructor says that they can get students to pass the national board exams but worries about the “soft-skills” that may be necessary as a young funeral director moves into greater responsibility with the firm that hired them.  The instructor tells me that skills like how to synthesize information, navigating ambiguity, knowing the importance of professionalism, manners, networking, and respect of others seems to be missing from many students.


So, if you look to hire and find someone with the hard skills of funeral directing such as the work done in the preparation room how do you analyze the ability to move them to the next level of responsibility?


I recently came across this article from Forbes entitled, “Why Pre-Skilling, not Re-Skilling, is the secret to better better employment Pipelines”.  Here’s a quote from the article:

As the professional work environment becomes more complex because of rapid technological change, employees must increasingly adapt to new tools and processes while deploying them across functions, cultures and geographies.

That helps explain why organizations see the need to encourage their future workers, especially younger ones, to develop the kinds of foundational professional skills first that will help them adapt to these dynamic conditions. In other words, future-thinking companies have flipped the script by looking for potential employees who demonstrate the soft skills that demonstrate a person’s ability to continue to learn new hard skills over time as they become necessary.


The article continues with this advice about what to look for in hiring,  “In a landscape where the relevance of skills evolves . .  organizations should focus on selecting and advancing individuals based on their potential for learning skills like critical thinking and resiliency, instead of focusing on hard skills like coding.”  (or in the case of Death Care, like embalming).


I think that the funeral/cremation care business will continue going through transformations on how the business of helping families moves through the death of a loved one.  It is in that type of environment that the author of the article makes the connection that according to recent surveys, 60% of employers “are concerned that skills gaps in local labor markets will be one of the greatest barriers to their business transformations”.


Tom Anderson
Funeral Director Daily

Funeral Director Daily take:  This article tackles a really important part of the future of your business.  If you don’t have the employees that can transform and adapt their skills as your business changes you probably will get left behind.


I operated a funeral home for over thirty years. I can distinctly remember the hiring of one individual whom I thought would be a fantastic funeral director and member of the community but was not a good embalmer at the time.  He had all the apparent soft-skills that, with time and experience, would go with helping families, bringing in business, and even leading other employees.  But, I was really nervous if he would be able to handle the prep work that needed to be done at the time he was hired.  I called his embalming preceptor who happened to be the same preceptor I trained under.  He told me, “He’s not a very good embalmer. . . but, neither were you“.


I also had some great embalmers that I thought this job-seeker could learn from.  The candidate checked every other box in great fashion and I hired him. . . . Turned out to be one of the great hires in my history.  He is an incredible human being who, with the proper training, became not only an exceptional funeral director and leader, but a good prep room worker also.


I’m guessing, even though there was no name for it at that time, that his hiring was a result of looking at his “Pre-skills”.  And, in today’s world I think that is something that an employer cannot do enough of at this time.


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