According to an article in the China Daily, although cremation is growing increasingly popular among Chinese people, China still faces a lack of skilled crematorium workers due to weaknesses in education and professional training.
Latest data from the Ministry of Civil Affairs shows that cremation was the preferred method for approximately half of the funeral services that transpired in 2012.
However, only 20 out of 82,000 undertakers in China were senior crematorium workers with advanced certification, said Sun Yulin, an official from the ministry's professional skills evaluation center. In addition, there are only less than 200 undertakers in China with technician certification for cremation.
To create buzz around the profession, China recently organized its first cremation competition in Beijing. The contest, which featured written and practical tests, was organized jointly by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Civil Affairs, the ministry, and the Chinese Workers' Technical Association.
Out of 19 participants from across the country, Wei Tong from Beijing emerged victorious and was given a labor medal, the highest award for ordinary Chinese workers.
According to Sun, cremation "requires specialist skills, including the knowledge and practical skills to use the equipment and control exhaust gases."
"The appearance of the cremated remains also differs, and good cremation workers can produce ivory white ash without any foreign substances," Sun added in an interview with China Daily.
Crematorium workers usually take training courses in a vocational school and undergo apprenticeship at the workplace.
"Funeral service majors at vocational schools produce about 600 graduates each year. Most crematorium workers learn on the job," shared Yang Fengxin, who works at the ministry.
"This weakness in training results in a lack of highly skilled workers," Yang said. "We hope to encourage crematorium workers to improve their skills through the competition and expect to discover more highly skilled talent."
Aside from weak training and education, crematorium workers also face discrimination and suspicion as traditional Chinese individuals still view cremation with a degree of distrust. Workers only hope that one day, the way Chinese society views their profession will change.
"Crematorium workers have no weekends, no holidays, or even the Chinese new year--when they are needed, they have to work. People don't stop dying on the holidays," said Li Shilong, head of the Beijing Dongjiao Crematory.
"We deserve more respect from society," Li said.