Apprenticeship on course

words: Andrew Collier

Working as an independent funeral director is hugely rewarding, but it can be challenging too. Every role is important and it’s crucial you get it all right. To add to the complexity, you are often performing a lot of different tasks, each requiring great skill and sensitivity.

Despite this, there has historically been little in the industry by way of formal apprenticeship training. That, though, is just about to change. A new 12 month long Level 2 course is just about to start. It will be open to anyone working in the sector for more than 30 hours a week, regardless of their age or experience.

The qualification is a combined project involving SAIF, Preston’s College and the IFD College. It will cover a wide range of subjects, taking in both theory and practical competencies such as caring for the deceased, bearing a coffin, conducting viewings, sensitive interaction with clients, driving funeral vehicles and controlling account payments.

All the materials covering the theoretical part of the course will be online, while the workplace tasks will be marked by qualified and experienced assessors. These assessors are currently being validated and once this process is complete, the apprenticeship will go live.

Simon Galley, who is the Head of Health, Sciences and Early Years Training at Preston’s College, is a senior member of the team delivering the new course.

“It’s just a case of getting the assessors ready and then we can start,” he says. “We need to have them and to check they are occupationally competent so we can ensure that the apprenticeship is valuable and credible.

“We are ensuring that their assessor qualifications and experience meet the requirements of the awarding body rather than checking they are occupationally competent – we wouldn’t be best placed to do that.”

As the course will be a national one, assessors will visit local independent funeral directors to invigilate the apprentices in their own workplaces. This means that there needs to be a network of these examiners across the country. As the theoretical part is done online, this won’t be a problem.

Simon also noted the high demand from potential learners.

“It’s been really good so far,” he said. “We have a list of people who have expressed an interest. We are certainly not concerned that we won’t have enough applicants.”

He added that the apprenticeship is perfect for SAIF members. “It is a formal, registered and regulated qualification. Historically, the bigger non-independent directors have done their own training internally, but Independents perhaps haven’t had the resources to do that.”

“The qualification is being delivered elsewhere but we believe they aren’t doing this by ‘blended’ learning, so this makes the Preston’s College version much more flexible and gives us the ability to offer it nationally.”

SAIF has been instrumental in helping with content development and providing the context in terms of knowledge and experience.

For the practical competence part of the course, assessors will each visit apprentices around five times a year.

The written work element will involve the use of an e-portfolio called OneFile. This will allow for electronic marking of assignments and for assessors, employers and the learners themselves to track the work as it is completed.

One big advantage is that funding is on offer – for apprentices between the ages of 16 and 24 – with grants of up to £1,500, payable after the learner has been on the course for 13 weeks.

Simon explained: “There may be no cost to the individual business except for the wage of the apprentice. It’s a fabulous deal for the employers as effectively, they don’t pay. The government is planning to introduce an apprenticeship levy from next April, but most SAIF members won’t be big enough to need to pay this.”

He said he hopes all employers in the independent funeral business will take advantage of the scheme. “In honesty, it feels like it’s a bit of a no-brainer. It’s an investment in the staff and it will help with things like motivation.

“Plus it should improve their business – they are putting resources into training and development opportunities and improving skills. It also gives the learners a sense of ownership in what they are doing every day. That should all help the employer.”

The college, he says, would like to develop more courses in the future, though this one is specifically for the independent funeral director. “We’ve had really positive feedback and we don’t need to go anywhere else. We are fully committed to our relationship with SAIF.”

One of the people heavily involved in setting up the apprenticeship is Chris Parker, who is Chairman and former Director of Education at the IFD College, the industry’s vocational training institution which was first launched 21 years ago. It now hopes to launch a Member of the IFD College award, based on continuous professional development.

Chris, who owns the Tonbridge-based Abbey Funeral Services, organised the IFD College’s formal accreditation. She agrees that there is a real demand for this kind of training.

“Large chunks of what the apprentices will be doing will be pretty much the same as our IFD offering. To start with, the apprenticeship will only have a small cohort, though this will grow.

“Also, at the moment, the apprenticeship will only carry out training for people who are doing funeral operative training. It won’t cater for those who are on the administrative side of the industry. Hopefully in five years’ time it will offer both, as the IFD College does now.”

She said she would like to see both the IFD’s vocational training and the apprentice scheme running in parallel. “I’d like to think that the IFD College has been instrumental in delivering the apprenticeship. If it grew into something bigger as time goes on, I would be absolutely delighted.”

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