Not your ordinary dead-end job

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 June, 2011, 12:00am


Dying to work with people and make a lasting impression? Looking for a business that brings in customers whether times are good or bad?

Well, then, you might consider the funeral business.

Some industry insiders hope you do. They have set up 7749 Company, the city's first for-profit venture dedicated to bringing new blood, so to speak, into the funeral industry. That is, people in their 20s and 30s.

'We want to recruit the younger generation to get into the field,' said Richard Chan, its chief executive.

The average age of the workforce is over 50, a little too close to that of the customer base.

Instead of learning the business in apprenticeships from relatives and friends, the usual way the industry has operated, aspiring funeral workers can take 7749's introductory course in mortuary services and get lined up with on-the-job training, all towards earning a certificate.

The programme is perfect for 'those who are keen to join this field but do not have any connections with industry insiders', Chan said. 'They'll now know where to go.'

The course presents basic knowledge of ceremony rituals and burial procedures, as well as life education and counselling for the bereaved.

Management, accounting and legacy law - all important in running a funeral home - will be covered, too, Chan said.

Students will get a taste of being a coffin carrier, a corpse make-up artist and a gravestone worker from 7749, which is named after the seven weeks, or 49 days, that has particular significance following a death.

The industry needs professionals at the management level, just as any other businesses, and the course can help to nurture more of them, said company president George Ching Kwong-ning. 'Running a funeral home is like running a hotel - it also involves accommodation, catering and reception,' he said.

The course is needed, its managers say, because the industry is moribund. 'The funeral industry in Hong Kong is perhaps the most backward one in the world,' said director Kyla Yuen Ng-fung.

In Europe and America, formal training for 'funeral directors' is common. On the mainland, hopefuls can take a three-year course.

A veteran funeral worker, who asked not to be named, has his doubts. 'I don't think the course will be useful in raising professional standards in the industry,' he said. 'Funeral service is not something that you can fully master after going on a course. It takes many years of polishing, through listening and dealing with different cases.'