Training for success

words: Stewart McRobert

Future-proofing your business means investing in your staff and their development. Training is crucial and one place that delivers specially designed education is the Independent Funeral Directors (IFD) College. For more than 20 years, this college has been providing essential vocational training for SAIF members and their staff.

Firms up and down the UK have benefited from the IFD College. Among them is Mark Shaw Funeral Services, which operates from two offices in Aberdeen. The company has six full-time and several part-time staff.

According to owner Mark Shaw, using the IFD College has a number of advantages, including allowing his relatively small company to provide training for staff as soon as they enter the business.

“It offers a practical approach where people can take things step-by-step. You can take one module and get a certificate then go on to do another if it’s appropriate and you choose to do so.

“Logistically it’s a great option too. We are based in Aberdeen and alternative training can sometimes only be available in Edinburgh or Glasgow. For staff that would involve a weekly or fortnightly evening class and with travelling it’s just not feasible. With the IFD College there’s a lot of home study which makes things easier.”


Mark has his own experience of using the College. He began taking courses approximately seven years ago and completed all units within two years. Since then, he’s encouraged his staff to take advantage.

One staff member completed all units within a year. Another has just one more module to do, while a new employee who has been with the company for a matter of months is about to embark on the course.

Mark believes the ability to offer training from the outset confirms to newcomers that the company has a personal development ethos they can benefit from. When it comes to recruitment, if people in the wider sector know that he puts his staff through training he is likely to attract serious, career-focused applicants when he advertises a vacancy.

He is also confident this approach is good for team cohesion and creating a professional environment. “It helps promote the business in different ways,” he added. “For example, when clients visit one of our premises they see certificates on the wall, which helps reinforce our credibility.”

Crucially, it encourages staff to sit down and think about what they do and experiences that they might not come across in a normal working week. “They might be asked what they’d do if faced with an angry client, or if they are part of a funeral cortege and the vehicle they are in breaks down,” noted Mark. “Raising these sorts of scenarios gets people thinking.”

In terms of growing the business, the benefits are wide ranging. Mark added: “For example, when it comes to tendering for public sector work, I can point out that our people have recognised certificates covering important areas of business practice.

“Similarly, if and when licensing is introduced to the funeral profession in Scotland – as some have suggested it might – companies with qualified staff will find it easier to prove that they have a professional and responsible approach.”

Although it already provides useful courses Mark believes the College has an opportunity to expand its offering.

“I would like to see the College growing and developing its training options to cover areas like independent business management , marketing, detailed care of the deceased, legislation and so on.”

South west view

At the other end of the country there is another firm which has made very good use of the services offered by the IFD College.

Grassby Funeral Service is a family business with seven branches – two in Devon and five in Dorset. The operation is an offshoot from a stonemason business founded by Benjamin Grassby in the 19th century. There are approximately 60 staff in total.

Peter Grassby is one of three brothers who currently run the business. He said: “We’ve been using the College for two years now. Five staff have completed the courses and four more are going through modules at the moment.

Peter believes the format of the training offered is particularly suited to his people’s needs. He said: “Many of our staff come into the business later in their careers and it may be some time since their last experience of training and education.

“The IFD Course is great because there is no sit down formal exam at the end of it. Instead, it’s centred on coursework and vocational training. That definitely suits many people.”

The firm has had a range of staff taking part, including funeral directors, assistants and administrators. Each gets to learn more about those parts of the business that they don’t operate in every day.

Peter said the course has helped promote the idea of continuing personal development. One member of staff is following up the IFD College course by pursuing other professional qualifications. The optional units on offer mean that it is possible to target the needs of each individual.

“As well as demonstrating to clients the readiness of our business to grow and develop, the training enhances staff credibility, and their own self confidence. And, by helping ensure our people have a broader knowledge, it allows us to develop our customer service.

“We will continue to use the College, as well as pursue other options that are available.”

Going back to Mark Shaw, he neatly summarised: “Staff who have gone through the IFD College courses have a great sense of achievement. It’s convenient , it’s very good for credibility, it’s an excellent way of being seen to take our profession seriously and it plays an important part in helping to safeguard your business.”

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