October 2015
Volume 6, Issue 10

Critical Mass

Maybe we all knew that at some point far down the road it might happen, but we chose to ignore the warning signs; or maybe we never believed in those industry soothsayers who forecast the shortage. Yet, here we are more than halfway through 2015 and it would appear there are many laboratory owners in dire need of skilled labor.

Not that long ago, hiring off the street provided this industry with the workforce it needed. The practice of bringing in new unskilled hires and providing a few weeks or months of intense in-house training was standard for keeping production going with hardly a hitch. In fact, many laboratory owners who today operate very successful businesses began their careers in the model room or behind a grinding wheel, working their way up to management level and eventually ownership. Those were the days when the departmentalized tasks to be learned and mastered were far simpler, the majority of cases coming into the laboratory perhaps less complex, and the technical knowledge base needed to create the final prosthetic rested with the technically knowledgeable few. It was also a time when the layered crown, anterior and posterior, was king and a talented ceramist invaluable.

Today, the skill sets needed have changed dramatically. The layered crown has largely fallen from grace, replaced by a monolithic iteration that is merely stained and glazed, or just polished. The demand for skilled removable prosthetic technicians, both full and partial, has largely usurped the long-standing reign of the valued ceramist, creating a dire need for those few denture technicians left in the industry who possess the years of removable experience to create them. Model and wax departments have been cannibalized by automated CAD and CAM processes that rely not on manual dexterity and training but require knowledge of sophisticated software and the ability to transfer technical knowledge to mouse-driven 2D images on-screen. Disappearing are the job board ads for waxers, metal finishers, and gold and model technicians. In their stead is the call for knowledgeable implant and removable technicians, proficient CAD designers, experienced CAD/CAM managers, customer-relations specialists, and qualified management personnel. It is a maturing industry in which technical knowledge and specialty skills now trump training the untrained.

For business owners seeking to fill vacant positions or to expand their operations, the problem has now become finding the technicians with the experience, technical expertise, and skill sets needed to fill the open slots. In recent decades, manufacturers and mega laboratories have snatched up many of the most talented and knowledgeable technicians, and are willing and able to compensate them well for their professional skills and offer them generous benefit packages to keep them on the payroll.

The question becomes for the remainder: Where will tomorrow’s technically adept and knowledgeable labor force be found to meet the future demands of the dental industry? Innovation in new technologies will never be able to replace or fill the growing knowledge vacuum. Does that mean the field of dental technology has reached its tipping point? Will we sit back to wait and see?

Pam Johnson

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