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Job: Funeral director

The role: Funeral directors, who are sometimes also referred to as morticians or undertakers, handle the embalming and burial or cremation of the dead.

Funeral directors start by determining who has the right to make decisions on behalf of the deceased, and then help make arrangements, said Michael Hedden, vice-president at the Funeral Service Association of Canada, who also manages three funeral homes in the Burnaby, B.C. area.

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He said arrangements cover everything from registering the death and obtaining legal permits to bury or cremate the body, to "the important aspect of creating a ceremony of remembrance for the deceased."

Salary: Apprentice wages start at about $20 an hour. Once licensed, a funeral director's salary starts at about $45,000 to $50,000 a year and can increase to about $60,000 to $65,000 for someone with more experience. Funeral directors can earn even more if they take on management roles or run their own funeral homes.

Education: Many provinces have their own licensing requirements, which include an apprenticeship and the completion of a diploma or certificate program. Humber College in Ontario and Mount Royal University in Alberta are examples of educational institutions that offer diploma or certificate programs. Studies typically include courses on anatomy, microbiology and other sciences, as well as ethics.

By the numbers: There are about 4,500 funeral directors and embalmers in Canada, according to the 2011 National Household Survey.

Job prospects: As people from the baby boom generation continue to age and die, the demand for funeral directors to help bury them is expected to rise. "We're already starting to see that," Mr. Hedden said. "There will become an even greater need for licensed professionals," in the future, he added.

Challenges: Dealing with death on a regular basis can be tough, so funeral directors need to develop a strong work-life balance. The hours can also be gruelling, with late-night or early-morning calls from clients whose loved ones have passed away, as well as evening visitations and funerals that can take place any day of the week.

"Death isn't 9 to 5. We are called upon pretty much 24/7," Mr. Hedden said. Such demands can also be hard on the family members and friends of funeral directors, he said.

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Why they do it: "If you are a compassionate and tolerant person with a strong desire to help people of all sociocultural backgrounds, you will have a fulfilling career in this field," says the website for the Humber Funeral Services Education program.

Mr. Hedden said it's a fulfilling job because you are helping people in their time of need.

"It's rewarding," he said, referring to the profession as "a calling" for some. You also get to see into different peoples' lives. "Everyone has a unique story to tell, and you never know what that story is gong to be," Mr. Hedden said.

Misconceptions: Death is a serious business, but funeral directors often have a well-developed sense of humour. It helps many of them cope with being around so much grief.

Mr. Hedden said that people who learn he's a funeral director tend to have a lot of questions about the job itself, including what it's like to be around the dead. Bodies don't ever sit up in their caskets, as has been depicted in fictional television programs such as HBO's series Six Feet Under. "Stuff like that just doesn't happen," Mr. Hedden said.

Give us the scoop: Are you a funeral director? Write a note in the comments area of this story or e-mail your comment to careerquestion@globeandmail.com and let us know what you would tell others who are interested in the profession.

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