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The road less traveled to a career in funeral service

Updated: May 31, 2023

Many people know of the services that funeral homes provide, but few people think about funeral services as a career pathway. That appears to be changing. According to the American Board of Funeral Service Education, enrollment in funeral services post-secondary education has been increasing, with the average student aged 24 to 29 years old.


“It’s rare that we see someone so young interested in funeral service unless they grew up in the profession,” says Sierra Miles, General Manager at Gunderson Funeral Homes. She’s talking about Salix, who utilized Operation Fresh Start’s CareerScape counseling program to turn his career aspirations into achievable goals.


A high school senior in the Monona Grove School District, Salix was referred to CareerScape by his school’s principal. He expressed an interest in mortuary science and funeral services but was unsure how to get into the field. That’s where Aram, CareerScape program coordinator, was able to start helping. After meeting with Salix and discussing his aspirations, Aram arranged a tour at Gunderson Funeral Home.


Salix stands in front of the sign for Gunderson funeral and cremation care

“It’s a pleasure to work with participants who have a defined vision of their career path,” said Aram, “When Salix let me know that he was interested in mortuary science, I knew Gunderson would be a great match.”


The tour allowed Salix to view the interdisciplinary skills required to work in the funeral business, from the science of preparing bodies to empathic counseling for the bereaved. Gunderson has been in operation since 1922, providing burial, cremation, and green burial services, visitations, memorials, and more, as an active member of the community.


“The funeral profession is unique in that it requires proficiency in science, arts, and social skills,” explains Sierra, “Salix came to Gunderson incredibly curious about all aspects, already detail oriented and with an aptitude for so many areas that funeral service requires.”


Following the experience, Salix was encouraged to apply for Gunderson’s apprenticeship program, which required a day of job shadowing. In preparation for this, Aram and Salix coordinated with East Madison Community Center’s First Impressions program which provides professional attire to job seekers. Following the job shadow, Salix applied for the apprenticeship and was hired by Gunderson.


“Salix did not shy away from tackling some of the less enjoyable tasks of this job,” recounted Sierra, “And above all else, Salix shows a passion for caring for our families in this community.”


Working together with Salix’s school and Gunderson, Aram helped to schedule Salix to work on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the school year, allowing him to allocate enough time for his studies to ensure a spring 2023 graduation. After earning his high school diploma, Salix aspires to expand his hours at Gunderson and enroll in mortuary science school this fall.


“In many ways, Salix’s more unconventional pathway is representative of the diversity of careers available to young people in the community,” said Aram, “I like a good challenge and hope more young people explore occupational frontiers like Salix did!”


You can learn more about CareerScape and support all OFS programs by making a donation!

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