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From career interest to sustainable pathway

In the spring of 2023, Salix Johnson had recently started his career journey in the funeral services industry with the help of CareerScape. He had job-shadowed at Gunderson Funeral Homes and started working there part-time while finishing high school. “It’s rare that we see someone so young interested in funeral service unless they grew up in the profession,” Sierra Miles, General Manager at Gunderson, had said at the time. In late December, she reached out again.

“I wanted to update you on Salix’s progress,” she said in her email, “Recently, we had a Crematory Specialist position open. This is a position that we take very seriously because they are the final stop in taking a loved one to cremation. Mistakes can’t happen.”

Crematory specialists manage the process of cremating a loved one’s remains following death. This may include preparing the body for cremation and performing general maintenance to the equipment (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Cremation requires a high attention to detail and great care.

Salix, who had graduated high school that spring of 2023 and continued with Gunderson, was interested in learning more about the position. “I had made a lot of progress [at Gunderson], but my work stayed the same,” said Salix, “The maintenance and upkeep was an important job, but it wasn’t enough to keep me busy. I hated the thought of wasting company time so I met with my supervisors to discuss my options.”

He job-shadowed Jim Stoker, a Certified Crematory Specialist, who takes tremendous pride in his responsibilities and is selective of who he recommends for the job. After just one day of working together, Jim saw potential. After job shadowing and helping for a few days, Salix was encouraged to pursue the position. “I was ecstatic to find that it felt like the perfect fit for me,” he said.

Jim Stoker, left, Certified Crematory Specialist at Gunderson, with Salix Johnson.

The next step was an aptitude assessment used for specific positions. Only 30% of people who complete the assessment score in the top half, and Salix scored even higher! “Salix is a good man to have on our team,” Jim said.

“For me, crematory work is the perfect balance between working with people and working by yourself,” explained Salix, “And, delivering someone’s remains to their final resting place to be taken back to families or scattered someplace beautiful is a very fulfilling career to have.”

Seeing young adults at OFS grow and achieve their goals is the best outcome for Aram, CareerScape Coordinator. He watched Salix turn a career interest into a sustainable pathway. “I’m impressed with Salix for not only stepping out of his comfort zone last year, but also really investing in his career path and moving into a more specialized field,” Aram said.

Not everyone knows what they want to pursue before graduating high school. Even for Salix, that last year was frightening. “Your senior year of high school feels like a constant ticking downward to your imminent future, and every decision you make will either destroy you or push you in the right direction. Maybe that’s a little dramatic, but for a lot of seniors, all that pressure makes you feel like you’re drowning.”

Salix credits the CareerScape program, Gunderson Funeral Homes, and his high school, MG21, for where he is now. “This year, and this promotion, marks the first time I have ever been truly proud of and excited for myself,” he said, “I will never stop preaching how important it is to take full advantage of every opportunity given to you, and to move through things at your own pace.”


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