By Marita Hazeldene
Vice President, Client Services

Many industries are facing a skills shortage as talent pools shrink in the current market, and the dental industry is also feeling the effects.

While the dental industry is rapidly expanding as a result of new techniques and technologies, such as 3-D printing and AI, the uncertain economic climate has caused a candidate shortage that is restricting the growth of this dynamic industry. While multiple sectors are seeing skills shortages, I’ve noticed that many are not feeling this shortage as keenly as the dental profession.

By 2025, dental nurses will be required to carry out 25% of all direct patient care in addition to their traditional role of supporting dentists, according to the Centre for Workforce Intelligence (CfWI). This means there is demand for a significant number of additional dental nurses to support growth in the sector. The skills shortage is already impacting the nation with an increasing number of people being forced to wait for more than six months for NHS dental treatments.

So, what’s causing this shortage? One of the biggest contributing factors is the U.K.’s ageing population. The combination of falling birth rates and lengthened life spans means older people are making up a larger proportion of our population. In 2003, it was predicted that 21% of the population would be over 65 by 2020 and in 2012 that prediction was updated to 25%. Public Health England has also found that fewer than a third of over-65s have their own teeth, but that within 20 years that is likely to increase to around half. This will put the dental profession under huge strain as the demand for dental care will significantly increase.

Private clinics are also seeing a rise in demand for cosmetic procedures, which is being driven largely by the millennial generation. Social media is seen to be the leading cause for this upsurge, with celebrity influencers promoting the “Hollywood smile” on their online channels.

The uncertainty and instability of today’s political climate is causing some employees to return to European countries to work and any restrictions on freedom of movement block will further prevent European dental practitioners from migrating to the U.K. A recent study undertaken by the General Dental Council (GDC) found that almost a third of dentists from Europe are considering leaving the U.K. in the next few years, with uncertainty over Brexit cited as the main reason.

As a result, apprenticeships have become an invaluable investment for the dental industry. However, the perception of what an apprenticeship is remains outdated as they are often seen as an inferior alternative to a university degree. This is negatively impacting uptake, with 58% of employers feeling that middle and senior managers would be unwilling to be seen as an apprentice, despite apprenticeships being a key source of training budget.

Introduced by the government in 2017, the Apprenticeship Levy incentivises employers of all sizes and sectors to offer apprenticeship qualifications as part of their recruitment programme. Companies with a payroll exceeding £3m are required to pay into the levy and receive 100% funding for most apprenticeships. Companies with a payroll below £3m need not pay into the levy but can still benefit from 90% funding against approved apprenticeships.

Businesses in the U.K. are already reaping the benefits of apprenticeship programmes. Advantages of offering apprenticeships include the ability to attract the best candidates, create a talent pipeline across an organisation, boost morale, and increase productivity. With the skills shortages in the dental sector, a variety of apprenticeships opportunities are currently being offered. Training is offered for roles including dental technician, dental laboratory assistant and dental practice manager with candidates able to achieve degree-level apprenticeships. However, we are seeing many employers unwilling or ill-equipped to embrace this scheme and there appears to be a reluctance to invest in people and their skills.

So why should your organization take advantage of apprenticeships? Hiring an apprentice is a productive and effective way for a business to grow talent and develop a motivated, skilled, and qualified workforce. Dental practices will have the opportunity to attract a range of new talent, including high-calibre school leavers who are keen to earn a degree but are unwilling or unable to take on student debt. This will allow employers to maintain and increase the homegrown pipeline of dental talent, which is extremely important, particularly given uncertainties associated with Brexit and the pressure on existing resources if a greater proportion of the population were to visit the dentist more regularly.

Apprenticeships can also increase diversity across the workforce by opening employment and training opportunities to a range of people with varying levels of experience and from a wider variety of social backgrounds. For example, if someone has managed a retail store for several years and was considering a career change, they could hone the transferable skills acquired from their previous role into a dental practice manager through an apprenticeship.

As well as attracting new talent, apprenticeships give dental practices the opportunity to upskill their existing staff. Not only will people value the additional work-based training and professional qualification, but supporting the career progression of your employees and nurturing them throughout their programme can secure their loyalty to your practice. This will pay off by lowering staff turnover. In today’s current economic uncertainty, apprenticeships seem like a viable answer to the increasing skills shortage in the dental industry.

Connect with Marita Hazeldene on LinkedIn.