Funeral directors/embalmers organise and direct funerals, register deaths, and prepare human bodies for visits by families, and burial or cremation.
Funeral directors/embalmers usually earn
$45K- $50K per year
Source: Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand, 2016.
Pay for funeral directors/embalmers varies, but they typically earn between $45,000 and $50,000 a year.
Very experienced funeral directors/embalmers or those running their own business can earn up to $100,000.
Source: Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand, 2016.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Caring for bodies and registering deaths
Funeral directors/embalmers may do some or all of the following:
- arrange for removal of bodies from places such as private homes, hospitals and accident scenes
- gather the information and documents necessary to register the death, and obtain death certificates
- preserve and prepare bodies for viewing
- drive a hearse and transport the coffin
- attend and/or assist with burial or cremation.
Organising and attending funerals
Funeral directors may also:
- discuss funeral arrangements with relatives
- work with relatives to help them cope with their grief and celebrate the life of the person who has passed away
- organise newspaper notices, cemetery bookings or burial plots, flowers, catering, and coffins and urns on behalf of relatives
- arrange, attend, and direct funerals and after-service receptions
- help family members with legal details such as Work and Income and Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) claims.
Skills and knowledge
Funeral directors/embalmers need to have knowledge of:
- legal and health issues relating to death
- human anatomy
- embalming, and preparing a body for burial
- various religious ceremonies, and differences in cultural and religious beliefs about the human body and funerals
- the legal obligations of working with and taking care of bodies.
- work regular business hours, but often have to work evenings or weekends and be on call
- work in offices, funeral homes, workshops and mortuaries attached to funeral homes
- travel to hospitals, private homes, churches and other places of worship, cemeteries, graveyards and crematoriums, and may be required to travel to accident sites to transfer bodies.
What's the job really like?
Embalming students at Weltec work on models - 2.11 mins. (Video courtesy of Radio New Zealand)
So we’re actually doing hair restoration; we’re just trying to make some eyelashes. So I guess the reason why we’re doing this is that it’s really important for families to have the best viewing picture that we can get for them, the best memory picture, because that is the last memory of their deceased that they’ll see.
Teresa: Tell me what the typical procedure is for preparing the deceased.
Jacqueline: What we first do is sanitisation, so the cleansing of the body, and then we actually commence the preservation of the body, and then we look at the presentation of the body, so creating that memory picture.
Teresa: So what are some of the things that you would do for the cosmetic side of things?
Jacqueline: Getting a photo of the deceased is really important, and talking with the family. You can always put a little bit more make-up on, it’s harder to take it off. And the thing is, that you want them to look how the family want them to look – and there are situations when that’s not possible. You know, victims of accidents and things, and we’ll do the utmost to get the best solution for everybody.
Teresa: And you’re new to this industry. So what drew you to it?
Jacqueline: I’ve always wanted to work in the industry. It’s not that easy to get into actually. So I guess what I really love is trying to make a difference for a family. I’ve had quite a bit of experience of death in my own family, and realised that if it’s done right, then your journey – the grief journey – is so much easier. And the fact that you only get one chance at this. It’s not that you can redo it. The thing is that families open up their lives to us, at a really vulnerable time for them. And we come in as a stranger most of the time, and I think the lovely part is that we never leave as a stranger.
There are no specific requirements to become a funeral director/embalmer.
However, you can complete a New Zealand Diploma in Funeral Directing (Level 5) through Weltec.
To be accepted into funeral directing and embalming courses, you must:
- be at least 20 years old
- be employed in the industry and sponsored by your employer
- have done at least one year's work in a funeral home.
A minimum of NCEA Level 1 is recommended to gain work as a funeral director/embalmer. Useful subjects include English and science.
Funeral directors/embalmers need to be:
- good communicators
- patient and tactful
- mature, responsible and sympathetic
- able to relate to people from a range of cultures and backgrounds
- organised and good at planning
- accurate, with an eye for detail
Funeral directors/embalmers must also be comfortable working around dead bodies.
Useful experience for funeral directors includes:
- work dealing with the public, such as in hospitality
- counselling, nursing or rest home work.
Work in make-up or cosmetics, and/or work in a hospital or laboratory is useful for embalmers.
Funeral directors/embalmers need to have a tidy appearance. They should also not be allergic to formaldehyde or glutaraldehyde – the two chemicals used in embalming.
Find out more about training
What are the chances of getting a job?
Poor chances for those looking to get into funeral directing/embalming
If you are starting out, chances of getting a job as a funeral director/embalmer are poor because:
- it is a relatively small occupation
- people tend to stay in the job for a long time, limiting the number of vacancies
- firms usually prefer to take on experienced people, due to the cost of training
- an increasing preference for direct cremation (where a body is taken straight to be cremated, and there may be no formal funeral) means a lower demand for funeral directing/embalming services.
According to the Census, 768 funeral director/embalmers worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Opportunities to get into funeral directing/embalming strongest for those with experience
Your chances of getting funeral directing/embalming work are best if you have relevant experience and qualifications.
Starting as an embalmer in a big firm can help
You can increase your chances of becoming a funeral director by approaching a funeral firm to work as an embalmer. Embalming skills are useful to an employer and the work gives you more chance of learning the other aspects of the role.
Job opportunities for inexperienced staff are better at larger firms, which have more time and money to spend on training.
Types of employers varied
Funeral directors/embalmers can work for:
- large businesses with a number of branches
- small family-run funeral homes.
Some funeral directors run their own businesses.
- Hammond, Sir G, president, Law Commission, 'Death, Burial and Cremation: A New Law for Contemporary New Zealand', 15 October 2015, (www.lawcom.govt.nz).
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupational Data', (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
- One News, 'Baby Boomers Ensure Funeral Industry Far from Dying Trade', 8 September 2015, (www.tvnz.co.nz).
- Seven Sharp, 'The Cost of Dying and the Deadend Job of Making Coffins', 17 September 2015, (www.tvnz.co.nz).
- Shanks, K, chief executive, Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand, Careers New Zealand interview, February 2016.
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
- Stock, R, 'Internet Reshapes Funerals', 18 May 2014, (www.stuff.co.nz).
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Funeral directors/embalmers may progress to work in a managerial role at a funeral home. With further experience, they may also establish their own funeral home business.
Funeral directors/embalmers may specialise in either funeral directing or embalming. However, most are trained and qualified in both areas.
Last updated 15 September 2020