What do you picture when you think of a funeral parlour?
A dark and dingy space filled with corpses tended to by old, sloppily-dressed workers? That may have been how it looked in the past, but things have certainly changed.
As CNA reports, funeral parlours have undergone makeovers to appeal to those who prize professionalism and the personal touch. Funeral directors now wear suits instead of singlets and short, and an increasing number of young workers are entering the profession.
More Than 800 Companies Providing Funeral & Related Services
You may not know this, but there are more than 800 companies providing funeral and related services in this tiny country.
According to CNA, some companies barely last a year, while others operate under multiple entities.
And surprisingly, the industry is steadily gaining interest from the youth.
This is due to a greater awareness of dying and the death trade, as well as more media attention on young workers in the profession
Youth taking over
One example is Roland Tay, the 73-year-old founder of Direct Funeral Services who handed his company over to his daughter, Ms Jenny Tay, 34.
Mr Tay had operated his funeral business as a sole proprietorship, which he started in the 1990s.
And it’s not just family-owned business that are seeing fresh faces, young Singaporeans are also starting their own firms.
Why the shift?
Mr Tan of Entrust Funeral Service believes that a higher number of young people are joining the industry because they get a sense of fulfilment that other jobs cannot provide.
Many of them see this profession as a more meaningful alternative to a regular 8-to-5 job.
Moreover, it gives young people a chance to build a career without educational prerequisites.
While the injection of youth into such an industry has helped to reinvigorate it, the quality of these funeral services still varies.
Not all workers are trained, and the ones who are often have to pick up skills on the job.
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Mr Chen Jiaxi, a former acting operations manager at Ang Chin Moh Funeral Directors, said this lack of formal training for funeral workers is an institutional problem.
“We are a developed nation without a mortuary college,” said Mr Chen, 34.
Other countries like United States, Canada, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand offer programmes that lead to degrees, diplomas, or certificates in mortuary science and funeral service.
Obviously, this lack of training can have consequences.
Wrong body cremated
Just last month, funeral firm Harmony Funeral Care cremated the wrong body after a mix-up.
An employee mistook the body of 82-year-old Kee Kin Tiong for the dead relative of another client when collecting it from the embalming room.
And in June last year, a man had his mother’s body moved to another funeral parlour after Fook Sow Undertaker in Geylang Bahru allegedly left her body uncovered, The Straits Times reported.
This is why the National Environment Agency (NEA) has introduced stricter rules.
Parlours must now use body identification tags, and keep embalming rooms locked and off-limits to all but authorised crew.
Those who fail to comply could have their licence suspended or revoked.
Formal training needed
Funeral business said that in order to raise its standards, Singapore needs a formal course for funeral directors, which could lead to licensing.
Others believe in imposing basic requirements before a person can start a funeral business.
I have to agree with this. When we leave our dear deceased relatives in the care of funeral parlours, we need assurance that they will be handled properly by skilled and knowledgable individuals.
Funeral parlours have certainly changed for the better, but there are still numerous issues that need to be addressed.
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