Open Polytechnic celebrates first graduates of Funeral Directing programme

Posted on 26 June 2024

Open Polytechnic, a business division of Te Pūkenga, and New Zealand’s specialist provider of online and distance learning, celebrated the first graduates of its Funeral Directing programme at ceremonies held in Christchurch and Auckland recently. 

New Zealand Diploma in Funeral Directing (Level 5) graduate, Nina Andrews, who works at Simplicity Funerals in Christchurch as a Funeral Director, says the programme offered a well-rounded approach to funeral services. “The flexibility of online learning allowed me to schedule my studies around my work and personal commitments, which was invaluable,” says Nina. 

“The different aspects of the programme required varying amounts of time for studying, research, and completing assignments, overall, the online format offered the flexibility I needed to succeed.” 

“I especially appreciated the focus on self-care for those working with the bereaved. It's crucial in such a demanding field, and the course provided valuable tools and techniques.” 

Nina says her recent graduation was rewarding, “It felt like recognition of the effort I had put into managing my work, studies, and personal life.  In this profession, excellent time management is essential.” 

Reflecting on what she learned during her studies, Nina says the history of the funeral industry was fascinating. 

“Understanding the history of funeral practices has given me a broader perspective on the industry and the evolving needs of our community.  Furthermore, the insights into cultural elements of death and funerals have helped me better serve families from diverse backgrounds and ensure their traditions are honoured with sensitivity.”

Graduate Nina Andrews and Open Polytechnic Executive Director Academic Services Neil Carroll

For Nina, who has more than 10 years of experience as a Funeral Director, the programme was a great opportunity to solidify her existing knowledge and skillset.  

“I believe that pursuing higher learning in this field strengthens the professionalism and importance of the funeral service industry,” says Nina.

“There's a deep sense of responsibility and trust involved in this industry, which motivates me to constantly learn and improve.” 

Open Polytechnic graduate Karen Dawson, who works as a locum Funeral Director in Hamilton, wanted to enter the funeral industry straight after school but was advised by a funeral director to study nursing or teaching first to gain some life skills.  

“I found this advice to be appropriate and once I’d qualified as a nurse, and worked in an operating theatre for a year, I returned to the same funeral home where the elderly owner let me observe an embalming to see if it was what I wanted to do,” says Karen. 

“Following the embalming, I knew this was indeed the field I wished to work in.” 

Karen was then permitted to learn embalming at the funeral home. 

“The opportunity to enrol in the New Zealand Diploma of Funeral Directing through Open Polytechnic fulfilled my lifelong dream of working in the industry. I studied diligently, while working a full-time job and part time role to support my family as a single parent. I was determined to complete this course to show my three children what you can achieve if you set your mind to it.” 

Graduate Karen Dawson

Karen says she thoroughly enjoyed the entire course and says the knowledge gained will be valuable. 

“Open Polytechnic enabled me to fulfill my dream, while continuing to work to support my family, and walking across the stage to receive my qualification at graduation in front of my children, was such a moment of pride and honour,” says Karen. 

Open Polytechnic Programme Lead Dana Brown says the Funeral Directing programme, consisting of eight courses, has been offered by Open Polytechnic since October 2021. 

“Open Polytechnic is the only provider of this diploma, and delivered online, it works well for ākonga (learners) across the country that are working full-time. The diploma was written by funeral directors, for funeral directors, and is the only formal qualification available to funeral directors across the country. “

"It is a popular programme in the funeral directing industry, a prerequisite of the course is that you are employed in a funeral home, and have been working as a funeral director for a minimum of a year,” says Dana. 

“The Diploma teaches ākonga why they do what they do.  It covers theory on grief, communication, and funeral rituals. It looks at culture and religion and Te Tiriti o Waitangi, pre and post funeral directing activities, funeral practice, and the role of the funeral director.” 

Dana says ākonga have up to three years to complete the diploma, each course is 20 weeks, but can be completed sooner allowing  ākonga to work at their own pace. 

“Feedback received from ākonga who have completed the diploma has been very positive and these  ākonga have been able to see the benefits and implement them into their funeral practice,” says Dana.  

Find out more about the New Zealand Diploma in Funeral Directing (Level 5) on the Open Polytechnic website: