The Principal of the Independent Funeral Directors' College discusses vocational training, the College's long history, and its latest developments.
Malcolm Flanders [00:00:04] Welcome to the Partnership Podcast. Training and education are important in any profession, and as independent funeral directors, you have the benefit of a virtual college which provides for vocational training tailored to your work. The Independent Funeral Directors College, or IFD College, has been around for more than a quarter of a century and has evolved throughout that time. Today, I'm speaking to Chris Parker, chairman of the IFD College and its original Director of Education. Chris has also more than 30 years experience managing her family funeral director business, and is a past national SAIF president, and today will be discussing her years with the college and what its future holds.
Malcolm Flanders [00:00:48] So Chris, nice see this morning, how are you?
Chris Parker [00:00:50] I'm fine, thank you, Malcolm. Nice to see you too.
Malcolm Flanders [00:00:54] Excellent. Well, we've got the opportunity to talk about the IFD, which is great because I know it's important. So I'm just thinking the IFD College has been around since 1995 and you've been a fundamental part of its development over the years. Can you talk about how you initially became involved?
Chris Parker [00:01:13] Yeah, sure. Well for a start, I can't believe it's 25 years and I really don't know where all those years have gone. But they've been eventful and they've been challenging sometimes. I was present at the launch of the college in 1995. How it had come about was, was a handful of very well-meaning SAIF exec members who believed, as I do, that vocational training should be available to everybody. However, what was on offer was not training. It was, at best, talking heads. People would go along to what they called a training day and listen to somebody talk to them for an hour or so and then go away with a certificate. There was absolutely no involvement by the audience at all. And the only skills that were covered were car washing and coffin fitting, as I recall, and a little bit of information about basic health and safety.
[00:02:15] So when I was asked, I agreed to come on board as a trainer because I had previous experience of designing and delivering NVQ training. When I gave up clinical nursing, I think it was around the end of the 70s, I went to work for a College of Further Education in Tunbridge and I was training pre-nursing students. So these were youngsters who have come out of school at 16 but wanted to be nurses and they completed a two year pre-nursing course. So my role at that time was to design NVQ training for these youngsters, design the courses and deliver. So so it had a bit of experience in how these things should work. So I agreed to come on board, but only if I was allowed to literally take this thing by the throat, give it a good shaking and make it into something that was proper training ground. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Malcolm Flanders [00:03:12] Is history, goodness me. So I get the background bit, in terms of the skills and competencies that you'd already acquired in your previous life in nursing, but I guess in '95, did you think you'd still be involved, 25 years later?
Chris Parker [00:03:29] I wasn't even sure that I'd still be alive, Malcolm!
Malcolm Flanders [00:03:33] Well, you are and well.
Chris Parker [00:03:35] So I've done my threescore years and ten.
Malcolm Flanders [00:03:38] You certainly have. OK, can you sort of talk us through what exactly the training covers today and what would you say are the college's core aims, and how have they changed, do you think, in response to the market and what's happening?
Chris Parker [00:03:54] OK, I think that's probably best answered by looking at the evolution of the college first. 25 years ago, the only training that was available was the NAFD diploma. And back then the NAFD and the BIFD were kind of working together. One organisation wrote the training and the other one delivered it. But it was only the diploma. It wasn't then, and it isn't now, appropriate for the vast number of people who work in this profession. And I would never talk it down, it’s a very good and very complex training course. But it's not appropriate for somebody who is a receptionist, somebody who's a funeral arranger, sombody who works two or three days a week driving the hearse and moving the deceased into care.
Chris Parker [00:04:50] And there was nothing, absolutely nothing for them. And I'm not being critical about what is a really good piece of education, but it's highly academic. It's not practical and it's dependent on the final examination.
Chris Parker [00:05:02] For those first days when I began to write the NVQ modules, it covered all aspects. The training that we deliver is modula. If your job involves you working in the coffin shop, making up coffins, and that's all you do, and you don't do anything else, then you can do the health and safety modules and you can do the modules about making up coffins. You know, if you're a funeral arranger, you need to know an awful lot more, so you would do those modules. And if you're somebody who is perhaps joining the family business and you're looking to take over, you need to know it all, then you do them all.
Chris Parker [00:05:46] It means that people have the choice of what they do, but more importantly, employers aren't paying for training that's not required and not necessary. So, I mean, I think delivering on the promise of 25 years ago, which was training for everybody, I think we're there.
Malcolm Flanders [00:06:06] Sounds like it.
Chris Parker [00:06:08] So we can now offer six separate awards ranging from one to six modules. And they range from level one to level four, NVQ. The first four units have been around for the whole of the 25 years. The fifth unit is the child and infant deaths unit, which I wrote last year, or was it the year before now actually? And that was as a direct result of the Bonomy Report. And I did that really because one of the recommendations from the Bonomy report was that everybody involved in a child death needs to have appropriate training. And, in fact, I've got one firm in Kent, who have been in touch with me only a fortnight ago, so we've just got the contract to do with all the baby funerals, contract for moving babies and stillbirths and neonatal deaths. I need all my staff to do that course. So, yes, we've really moved on. And I think, to be honest, that that promise from day one, it's still good.
Malcolm Flanders [00:07:13] Sounds like it. And you've got a comprehensive suite of modules now that cover the whole chain of delivery of services, don't you?
Chris Parker [00:07:21] Absolutely. And we've just had an approval from one awards for a level four training, which is going to be the funeral director award. And that really is going to equal, I won't say surpass because that would be very wrong, but it will certainly equal what's being offered from the NFD and the BFID diploma. So we will be able probably by the autumn begin delivery of an IFD diploma in funeral directing.
Malcolm Flanders [00:07:55] Wow, good news. And look, I did hear your update at the AGM yesterday. So just again, reflecting on the last 12 months, so how have you adapted and delivered during the pandemic?
Chris Parker [00:08:12] Well, like everybody else, I think in every walk of life it's been challenging. But, you know, I'm a firm believer in looking for good and positive outcomes from every situation. Regardless of how negative that situation may appear to be. And bizarrely the pandemic has done us a huge favour, because one of the things that we struggled with over all of our 25 years was the fact that we frequently had students who were in far flung remote areas. And they found it very difficult to access the face to face training, to attend a training day. And it was horribly expensive for us to send a trainer for perhaps just one student.
Chris Parker [00:08:56] We once had a situation, some years ago now, and I think at that point we did a sharp intake of breath. We had a student who had attended a face to face training in Scotland with Gavin Henshelwood, but then because there was nobody to do any kind of assessment of his practical work, Gavin had to go to one of the island, which required flights and an overnight accommodation. And when I kind of worked out what it cost the college I just went, "we need to rethink this.".
Chris Parker [00:09:35] So we're now in the situation where we can actually do an assessment virtually. So somebody propping up a mobile phone with Zoom running in a mortuary, I can watch them preparing somebody for viewing, or making up a coffin. So it does mean now that people can access training wherever they are and we'll carry on. We're not going to stop doing virtual training, although we go back to the face to face bit. We will carry on with the virtual training when this is over.
Malcolm Flanders [00:10:09] Good. Quite right, too. OK, so what do you think the most important qualities and competencies a professional funeral arranger will need going forward?
Chris Parker [00:10:19] I think probably I can sum up in a word and its clarity. I think being very clear when you're making funeral arrangements about what people are agreeing to, what it is they've ordered and how much it will cost them. Honesty about prices. Too many businesses, encourage clients to come in to their premises with the promise of something that is very cheap. And then you get there, they oversell and people come away with with a bill that actually they hadn't anticipated. So things like advertising the cost of a funeral, but not mentioning the fact that there's probably as much, again, in disbursements to add on top. So I think honesty and clarity would be the two words that I would use there.
Malcolm Flanders [00:11:13] OK, that's nice. And actually, that's a nice segway into our last question, because, you know, customer transparency and how we treat families, as you know, regulation's impacting every guest we've spoken to so far this year. So from the college's perspective, how will either of the upcoming CMA or FCA regulation change or impact what you offer and what students are looking for?
Chris Parker [00:11:38] I think the upcoming regulation has spurred a lot of businesses to seriously consider staff training. There will be people out there who probably haven't read the report. I mean, who the hell's got time? To be honest, you know, it would take a lifetime to read the whole thing. But I think people are genuinely assuming that staff training is going to be part of a regulated industry. I'm not sure that the CMA have actually come out and said that. I wish they had. For a long, long time I've been banging the drum for both SAIF and the NAFD to make it a requirement for membership. I don't think we have the right to call ourselves a profession unless we take training and CPD seriously. And I think our students are often much more switched on to the value of training than their employers are. They want to be seen as professionals and have the recognition that a certificate brings and postnominals.
Malcolm Flanders [00:12:33] Thank you and I like that point actually around the employer themselves, recognising the value of what they've achieved and actually having that accreditation. And I sense, yes, in a regulated world, that the bar is being raised, so the more you make sure your employees are treated the right way in terms of the development, the better the outcome for the family ultimately, which is what regulation is about.
Chris Parker [00:13:01] Absolutely. I think it makes you a better employer. I think you can invest in your premises. You can invest in your fleet. Why aren't you investing in your staff? Because, quite frankly, there isn't anybody who can run a funeral home without the staff there to do the work. So they need investment as well. And, you know, I'm in part, not so much now because I think people are getting better, but there was a time when... Somebody once said to me, and it was it was an old guy, it was lovely old guy actually, but it wasn't very switched on. And I was talking to him about training his staff and he said, "oh, yeah, but, you know, I spend all that money on training and they leave, you know, I've wasted all that money." And I said, "well, if you spend all that money and they stay, what then?" And he actually had no answer to that.
Chris Parker [00:13:53] But I think that kind of sums it up. Yes, you can spend money training people and then they might leave. But in actual fact, you've improved your business tenfold by having a well-trained staff. And once a year we have a standardisation meeting, so that all of our trainers and assessors get together at least once a year, and look at what we're delivering and how we're delivering it and how we're assessing it and assuring that if somebody does a training course down in Kent, they will get exactly the same training as somebody who's doing that training in Aberdeen. So that we're providing a standard which is hopefully nationwide. That's good for the businesses, it's good for the consumer, it's good for the employee.
Malcolm Flanders [00:14:50] Right, Chris, thank you ever so much. And if there's one thing I picked up from that conversation, it's all about investing in your people at the end of the day. I really do appreciate your time today and keep well over the next few days and months as you're out there delivering the training. Nice to see you, Chris.
Chris Parker [00:15:08] And to see you, Malcolm. Thank you very much.
Malcolm Flanders [00:15:15] Thank you for listening to the Partnership Podcast. You can learn more about the IFD College at ifdcollege.org. All of our episodes are available at goldencharter.buzzsprout.com, and you can reach me at email@example.com if you have any questions or thoughts about the podcast. Thanks again for listening and I'll talk to you again on the Partnership Podcast.