Funeral industry diploma seeks to bury old ways

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 3:37am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 4:25am

Hampered by a manpower shortage, with the traditional generation-to-generation passage of knowledge no longer meeting demand, the funeral industry is starting its own diploma course.

Only, the Hong Kong Institute of Funeral Service course in funeral planning will not have government accreditation because of a lack of official experts to assess it.

It is an industry that has no code of standards or licensing scheme, said the institute's board director Roy Lam Kin-tung.

As well as the diploma, the institute, in collaboration with a funeral services company, will also offer a certificate and higher certificate.

About 40 people aged 19 to 55 have already enrolled. But course director Richard Chan Wai-shing, who has worked in the industry for many years, warned that not everyone was suitable for the job.

He advised: "If you can't look at corpses, can't stand the smell or don't like talking, then being a funeral planner may not be for you.

"You need to deal with the corpses, and have to counsel the bereaved families."

He added: "We are hoping to attract more young people, if they are interested. In the past, even if they were interested, there was no way of getting into the industry."

Lam said Hong Kong had its own unique funeral practices and culture. "What is taught overseas is not suitable," he added.

Instead, the industry had relied on apprenticeships or on families passing down the secrets of the trade - traditions that were no longer adequate for Hong Kong's ageing society where demand was growing.

"We hope this course will break the mould when it comes to apprenticeships and family trade," Lam said.

However, he added: "The government basically does not have any experts in the area, which makes it impossible for them to assess and qualify our course and give us accreditation."

The diploma course, costing about HK$20,000, will last four months, including 90 hours of theory and 30 hours of placements covering various aspects of funeral services.

The certificate course costs about HK$10,000 and the higher certificate about HK$15,000.

"Each year around 40,000 people pass away. The need for the various funeral services - be it funeral planners, beauticians, undertakers or professionals for various religious rites - has grown bigger," Chan said.

He said the city had about 100 funeral planners and about 1,000 funeral professionals.

A funeral planner with some experience earns HK$30,000 to HK$50,000 a month, Lam said. Those who work in specific jobs, like the beauticians, can earn also a similar amount, Chan added.

Chan said the institute would consider opening more classes on specific areas of the industry.