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Archive for November, 2012

What mortuary school students should be learning has been a topic at several of the funeral director meetings I have attended in the last few months. It has been a consensus that many of the students the folks have interviewed are less than desirable. Whether it’s appearance (visible tattoos are a big issue) or attitude about work schedule or a true misunderstanding of what funeral directors do. Finding good folks is just plain hard these days.

I have also found that I don’t think that a lot of funeral home owners really understand what skills their new hires are going to need in the next 5 years. When I went to mortuary school over 20 years ago it was basically to learn what I needed to pass the national boards. Yes, I memorized terms and diseases and body parts. I got some practical experience in embalming but I really honed my skills learning from other funeral directors I worked with. Only about half of what I learned at mortuary school applied to the actual job I did.

Now that I am in the position of hiring people, the skills that folks learn at mortuary school are just a small part of what they need to know in order for me to even consider hiring them. Technology, computers, writing and speaking skills are an absolute must. Whether you are fresh from mortuary school or an experienced funeral director the following skills are an absolute requirement.

  1. A competent understanding of word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation software programs and how they work together. Preferably Microsoft office programs Word, Excel & PowerPoint. This means you better know how to create from scratch a memorial folder, place a photo in it, change the fonts and basically make the thing look good.
  2. A total understanding of digital photos. How to upload, scan, send, download, transfer, copy, paste. And a basic understanding of how to clean up those photos using a Photoshop type program (healing brush, magnetic lasso tool, cloning tool to name a few). A real plus is the ability crop people out of photos smoothly and place them into a printed document. If you don’t know what a jpeg is I don’t even want to talk to you. This also means you should understand about dpi settings and different quality of photos.  Someone with good Photoshop talents is just as valuable to me as a good embalmer and restorative artist. Over 50% of the folks that call me don’t want to see the body. But everyone that calls me potentially has a photo that we can enlarge, touch up, add to a collage or video.
  3. A complete understanding of iTunes and other music programs. How to create playlists, burn cd’s, rip mp3 files from existing cd’s, purchasing and downloading music off of the internet.
  4. Basic video camera skills. And understanding of pan, zoom and focus. Plus an understanding of how to get the video into a computer so a movie file or dvd can be created.
  5. The ability to create a slide show with music on a computer.
  6. The ability to write complete sentences, paragraphs and stories. If you can’t write a good obit you are useless to me.
  7. The willingness and ability to speak to a crowd, clearly and comfortably (yes this takes practice). Just practicing reading a story out loud to a small group of friends or employees will improve your skills at this. Then help each other deliver the story better than you did before. This practice will also improve your skills in the arrangement conference.

These skills are on top of the standard stuff that funeral directors need to know. I see them as skills that are absolutely necessary for our future. There are many talented, wonderful, experienced funeral directors out there today that I would not hire because they don’t have these skills. And it doesn’t take a school to learn these skills. They can all be learned by purchasing some small training program and learning them on your own. It’s amazing what you can learn by reading the help menu in a program or typing a question in YouTube. That’s how I learned.

If mortuary schools want to remain relevant they need to stop making students memorize chemistry they will never use and microbiology that doesn’t apply and teach them skills that will help them serve the 21st century public.

I’m Dale Clock.  Thanks for Listening.

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This is a photo of one our flower carts. We use them to transport the flowers from the area in the building where the flowers are delivered to the visitation rooms and then on to the chapel for funerals. Then we use them again to transport the flowers back to the garage where the delivery van is so we can take the flowers where ever the family wants them delivered. Handling flowers is still something we do all the time at the funeral home and I suspect most funeral homes have a cart like this in some shape or form. I have no idea where our carts came from but they look they were some type of standard cart and then customized to meet our specific needs. They are made out of steel, chrome and sheet metal. Very sturdy and have lasted over 60 years and I’m sure they have several decades of use left in them.

I don’t ever remember the flower carts not being at the funeral home. I’m 55 years old and the house I grew up in was attached to the funeral home. I used to go through the flower room on my way to my elementary school every day. I never really thought about them much. They were just part of the scenery here at the funeral home.

So why am I writing about them today. Well…Today I spent several hours cleaning them up.

We have been doing some well needed painting around the funeral home. I hired my 20-something nephew who is in between jobs as a summer white water rafting guide and wintertime ski lift operator and another gal with some painting experience to get the jobs done in a timely manner. My wife picked out the colors and basically supervised the job. I have been busy still working on the house trying to get ready to move in (I’m way behind schedule and my wife is about ready to string me up the flagpole). I decided it was time for me to delegate everything and I let them handle the job and over all they have done a great job.

Unfortunately they used the flower carts to move paint and equipment around the building and they spilled paint in the carts. Not a lot, but enough to make them look like crap and then the paint dried and it was crusty and nasty. They also didn’t clean the paint brushes very well and left the rollers wet with paint and wrapped in plastic bags so they could use them later when they got back to finishing the job. I know this is some trick that they saw in some remodeling magazine and years ago I might have done the same thing.

But with age (and lots of mistakes) comes some wisdom. I learned some time ago, thanks to my former father-in-law, that if you treat your tools well they will last a long time and you will do a better job. It takes patience, time to set up and then time to clean up when you’re done. I do my best to follow his teachings. Sometimes I fail. I don’t put all the tools away if I’m in a hurry or I know I’ll be back at the job soon. But I have found that when I don’t clean up and put things away I always have a hard time finding my tools later when I really need them.

OK …. you’ve all heard this before. So back to the flower carts.

The flower carts symbolize my business and how I should take care of people. I could just look at them as something that’s only there for a short time. Use it and then throw it away because it’s easier to get a new one than to clean it and take care of it. But I realized that these carts have been around for over 60 years, doing a great job, in the public eye and very functional. If I had to replace them I would get a new and improved model. But they don’t need to be replaced yet. They just need to be taken care of.

Maybe the folks that spilled the paint in them didn’t realize their history. They didn’t know how many jobs they had done so well over the years. Maybe the carts just looked old and utilitarian. I didn’t see them like that. I saw some old faithful tools (friends) that had been so helpful for a long time. So I spent a couple hours getting them back in shape. I’m glad I did. I’m sure they will return the favor and give me many more years of faithful service.

Now if I could just find that pair of vice grips I used last week.

I’m Dale Clock. Thanks for listening.

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