photo original source from Strait Times:
Original Article Source From Strait Times
In 2009, at the age of 24 when he set up his funeral company, Serenity Casket and Funerals, Mr Elson Chong was one of the rare young men in the industry.
But the funeral director, who is 32 this year, is finding himself in younger company as more of his peers are beginning to hold jobs in what insiders call the “death care industry”.
This refers to companies that offer services and products for funerals, cremation, burial and memorials. They may provide funeral arrangements and embalming services and sell a range of products from coffins to headstones to Chinese paper offerings.
There are sunrise and sunset industries, but the industry of death is one of the few bulletproof sectors.
But while the death care industry will never die, it has been greying. The people who work in such industries are typically older, having inherited the family trade, or are perceived as having no other choice than to work in what many consider to be a grim environment.
But the situation is changing, both as a result of the decreased stigma around death and its paraphernalia, as well as the tough job market.
As a result, the undertaker industry is getting new blood in the form of young entrepreneurial types such as Mr Chong.
There is also a spike in people under the age of 30 looking for jobs in funeral homes, say funeral service providers interviewed by The Sunday Times.
Job seekers apply for positions such as funeral directors, embalmers and pallbearers – where the pay scale may be comparable to corporate jobs for new employees with a diploma.
Mr Chong say she receives one to two job applications from those aged under 30 every month.
Direct Funeral Services and Ang Chin Moh Funeral Directors, two funeral firms that have been in the industry for decades, say over the past two years, they have received an average of two to three such applicants every month.
Five years ago, almost none of their applicants would have been that young.
The Life Celebrant, a funeral company founded in 2010, receives an average of eight queries from young individuals every month.
Ms Jenny Tay, 31, managing director of Direct Funeral Services and assistant secretary at the Association of Funeral Directors, says this is because younger people are becoming less superstitious and many are curious about the death care industry. The company was founded by Ms Tay’s father and she took over the business in 2014.
“Death care is an essential service. It’s good that they can see the professional side of it,” she says.
Her company has rolled out a management trainee programme to help train and retain potential employees.
Social media has also helped draw the younger crowd into the industry. For example, The Life Celebrant’s managing director Ang Jolie Mei, 36, says more of the younger generation have reached out to them after the company started promoting their services through Facebook.
Some have attributed this trend to the sluggish job economy.
Dr Mohamed Effendy, 39, a historian from the National University of Singapore’s department of Southeast Asian Studies, says: “We are dealing with Singaporeans, after all. They are pragmatic. If they find that this line is thriving, they will choose it in spite of the stigma attached to it.”
Although there is an interest from younger job seekers in the death care industry, he feels that the topics of death and dying are still taboo for most Singaporeans.
“We are at a stage where more information is coming in about the industry, but the stigma is still there,” he says.
It does not just come from superstition – being associated with dead people is deemed “unlucky” in most Asian cultures – but may stem from old cultural norms, says Mr Khanthan Vithilingam, 28, funeral director of Singapore Indian Casket Services.
He founded the company with his uncle in 2013 – the duo had been working in other funeral companies before starting their own business.
“In the past, only those in the lower castes took up these jobs, so it’s seen as a lower-level job,” he says, referring to India’s old hierarchical social system.
Unlike the rest, he sees only a handful of interested younger individuals every year.
However, other funeral companies have a rosier outlook on the industry’s future.
Ms Deborah Andres, 56, group chief executive of Ang Chin Moh Funeral Directors, says: “As more of them join the industry, they can discuss the importance of their profession with their friends and help demystify dying, death and funerals.”