More women joining funeral-services industry

More women joining funeral-services industry
FULFILLING: Miss Joan Chan (left), 23, works frontline operations at Ang Chin Moh Funeral Directors while Madam Julie Tan (right), 45, helps to organise funerals.
PHOTO: The New Paper

Looking for someone to handle caskets, corpses and grieving relatives.

It is not a job advertisement many would answer. But all that is changing, with even women applying to get into the business.

Owner of Little India Casket Services, Mr Chandra Sellaturai, 67, says: "Back in the day, it was tough to find people who wanted to do this job, let alone women."

Mr Iskandar Dzulhairi, 43, operations manager of Singapore Muslim Casket, says he did not have female colleagues when he first started out.

"I've been in this trade for almost 26 years and I never saw women on the ground.

"Since it's such a small industry, we're bound to see other funeral parlour workers working with the different religious groups. Now, I've noticed more women on the job.

"Just the other day, I saw a female hearse driver on the road," he says.

Among the women entering the industry is 23-year-old fresh graduate Joan Chan.

Miss Chan did not plan to work at Ang Chin Moh Funeral Directors when she was studying for her degree in business management at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

"I did a few part-time jobs before I landed a job as an administrative staff here.

"When I was transferred to do the (frontline) operations, I didn't know what to expect," she says.

As part of her training, Miss Chan, who joined the company last September, was told to observe the different frontline operations with a colleague.

NERVE-RACKING

While she was keen on exploring the unknown, she says her first time in the embalming studio was nerve-racking.

"The deceased man on the table was my uncle who had died from pneumonia," she says.

"I was very scared, but I kept reminding myself that I was there to make sure everything was done properly so that my auntie would not have an even harder time than she already was having."

Miss Chan, who had to be in protective equipment which includes a gown, an apron, shoe covers and gloves, says: "The biggest lesson that I learnt that day was that the deceased is to be treated with dignity."

She says it is awkward telling family and friends about her job.

The youngest of three daughters remembers telling her mother about her job.

"My mum's reaction was 'Huh? Funerals? Why?'

"But my parents and my sisters are used to it now.

"Even telling them about my day at work is just a regular conversation at home now," she says.

She is currently doing frontline operations while undergoing training and she thinks she will be doing this job for some time.

She says: "I've also done what we call 'night service', where we help the grieving family members attend to their guests by making sure they have drinks and snacks.

"To see them have one less thing to worry about makes me feel better."

The job is very fulfilling. I love that I'm able to be the pillar of strength for a family, who are most likely at their lowest. Just to be able to help their sorrow in a small way is a big thing for me.

- Miss Joan Chan, 23

SHE'S EAGER TO HIRE MORE WOMEN

060316_TNP_funeral2.jpg

Caption: 
TAKING OVER: Ms Jenny Tay, 30, daughter of well-known undertaker Roland Tay, is the managing director of Direct Funeral Services.

She's the daughter of well-known undertaker Mr Roland Tay.

So taking over Direct Funeral Services from her father meant Ms Jenny Tay, 30, had to prove herself.

"When I first started working in the company, there were no women at all.

"Even the vendors who worked with my father didn't think I would be in the industry for very long," says Ms Tay, the company's managing director.

"But I refused to give in. I've been working very hard to maintain the business - constantly bringing in new innovative elements and upgrading our services, not just for the company, but for the industry - all so I can create a legacy for my father."

Ms Tay, through her role as assistant secretary at the Association of Funeral Directors, is also attempting to push for industry players to get their CaseTrust accreditation, where the different companies agree to make a commitment to fair trading and transparency to consumers.

Ms Tay, who took over the company in 2014, says she is eager to hire more women because they add a "softer touch" to the solemn event.

KEEN

"I remember my father used to tell me that it was very hard to find workers who are my age," she says.

"However, a lot more people are keen to join the funeral business. I've also had a lot more women applying to the company.

"Now, about a quarter of my staff are female and that's a big change from what it used to be."

On taking over the business, she says: "Yes, it was easier for me that my father had a personal relationship with our company's vendors. But I'm not the kind of person to sit there and let things run the same way.

"I have to do an even better job."

crobert@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on March 6, 2016.
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