Merendino Cemetery Care
  GI Bill Apprenticeship and OJT Program

-by Gino Merendino

Two years ago, I performed a training workshop for the New York State Association of Cemeteries where we discussed creating a “million dollar funeral experience.” During that brainstorming session, one of the attendees, a proud mom of a West Point graduate, spoke about a funeral she attended for an officer. She described the experience with enthusiasm and great detail. She conveyed how memorable that experience was for her and that there were valuable lessons for all cemeterians to learn regarding the tremendous honor and respect displayed during military funerals. At that moment, a light bulb went off in my head. I realized that my goal was to show the same respect and high honors that our fallen military personnel receive to the everyday heroes that we serve. I worked on this idea.

Few things in my life have been more rewarding than educating, recruiting and training our returning Vets as new employees. In the sacred business of burying the dead, I learned very quickly three tools that armed us for continued success that can be used by any cemetery working with returning Vets.



The first tool of success is to document your processes. I remember watching a news report on MSNBC back in 2004 where Donald Rumsfeld was pressed by a reporter to criticize his boss for not giving him the tools he needed to be successful. I recall that he responded, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

Clear processes are essential before a Veteran starts working for a company since preparation is the key for any transitioning Vet. In the military, there is a documented process for everything, including standing at rest which is known as parade rest. Taking the time to prepare an appropriate schedule and procedural map will allow your newly hired hero to assimilate quickly and comfortably. We use value stream mapping developed by industrial engineers to document our processes, but a simple stop watch, note pad and common sense can be just as effective to document your current workflow. For example, a company can categorize transportation, waiting time, production expectations, typical defects and errors, inventory used, motion involved, extra processes that can be eliminated and any extra service opportunities they provide the customer.

I recently participated in a phone call with Tom Ziglar, the son of the famous motivational author and speaker, Zig Ziglar. He shared with me the most profound hiring advice I’ve heard in 20 years of business. He said that before taking on a partner (employees are partners), ask yourself if you would allow your daughter to work and be mentored by him when she turns 17 years old. I am pleased to say that I would be more than comfortable having the Veterans I work with mentor my daughter, Lucia.



Matching the Vet to the Specific Job is Important.

Matching the branch of service, rank and pay grade with each position in our organization wasn’t an easy task.

To assist us with the process, we enlisted the help of Marcea Weiss, author of the book Leaving the Military-Your Deployment Guide to Corporate America. Marcea, a former six sigma black belt with GE and the Captain and pilot of a Black Hawk helicopter helped us with this project. She performed a focus group consisting of personnel with various ranks from all branches of the military, and compared the interest and aptitude with the positions we had available.

The bottom line result was that NCO’s would make excellent working Crew Chiefs, Superintendents and Managers. Officers would be appropriate for Directors, Vice Presidents and Presidents. We applied these results and have been distributing Marcea’s book at the military career fairs we attend. We have had great success specifically at the Recruit Military Expos.

The Recruit Military organization sponsors career expos nationally and is owned and operated by retired Marines. It is an invigorating experience exhibiting and recruiting at these events. Supporting our returning heroes, providing them an easy transition into civilian life and providing them with a new career is a fantastic feeling for any business owner.



The third tool for success, we have found, is training. The Marines have a saying, “We sweat in training so we don’t have to bleed in battle.” Much like the first tool mentioned, documenting and organizing the training process is as important to our management as it is to our recruits.

Our best practices include a couple of hours dedicated to classroom and video training, while the remaining time is spent in the field shadowing personnel and working hands-on with equipment. We measure a new hire’s proficiency by how well he can train another member of the staff on what he has learned.

People join the military for many reasons, but whatever the reason, most of them come out with a great sense of loyalty, discipline and ability to get the job done.

Cemeteries are a great place to put our heroes to work. Their stellar attitudes, sense of duty and professionalism are paramount to performing respectful and memorable funerals. If you have the honor to attend a funeral for a Veteran, be sure to watch the detail from the buglers to the staff folding the flag. You will observe, as I did, what a meaningful ceremony it is and what an honor it would be to have a staff of these fine men and women involved in any ceremony. I have been personally touched by the process, and I couldn’t imagine running a company without
these heroes by my side.



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