Raising the bar

Given David’s background in technology and healthcare, in 2012 he was invited to oversee the formation of the Association of Dental Groups (ADG) – a specialist trade association for corporate dental companies and dental groups. The ADG now consists of 10 members, all of whom have to meet strict membership criteria, which includes supporting the Government’s aim to improve high quality access to dental care, and ensuring the delivery of quality outcomes for patients in a sustainable, transparent and high quality manner.

‘One of the interesting things about the dental corporate and group model, is that these organisations are in a position to take part in worthwhile initiatives more efficiently and cost-effectively than a standalone practice can,’ says David. ‘This is partly because the organisations can centralise back office facilities, and insist on consistency across all of its practices. It can also take advantage of economies of scale that simply aren’t available to small or medium sized businesses.

‘One particular area in which groups are able to make a contribution is in the area of training. Large organisations have got scale on its side, and employ large numbers of staff. It is therefore relatively straightforward to implement group-wide training strategies, put in place training programmes, day release schemes and so on, as the organisations have the ability to cover it.’

The right skills for the job

As David points out, for any business to be successful, it needs to employ people with the skills and training to meet the demands that the job brings. This is true in every sector of the economy, including dentistry, where there is a need, not only to recruit more dental nurses and technicians, but also well qualified practice managers, and to give them the skills and training they need to forge successful careers.

This is a view shared by many, and is one of the guiding principles behind the Government’s new Trailblazers programme – an employer-led initiative designed to raise standards in the apprenticeship system and to give people the skills employers need to grow and compete. When the ADG was approached to support the scheme, David and his colleagues were keen to get involved.

‘Supporting the Trailblazers initiative was a complete “no-brainer” for me,’ says David. ‘Members of the ADG are in the perfect position to give the scheme the support it needs. Together with the chair for the Trailblazers programme in dentistry, Mustafa Mohammed, and other members of the initiative, we aim to simplify the existing system and raise standards to make apprenticeships in dentistry a really positive option for individuals and employers alike.’

Apprenticeships on the rise

While apprenticeships may have fallen out of favour over the last few decades, according to David, they are once again returning to the fore. ‘Apprenticeships today are more relevant now than they have been in a long time,’ continues David. ‘We are increasingly becoming a technology-based society, and we need people with technical skill sets in all industries and at all levels, including key management posts, to make things work.

‘A degree is no longer the “only way” to good employment and a successful career. With modern apprenticeships people are able to learn real, and often very high-level technical skills, “on-the-job”. This is a hugely valuable option to them as individuals – and also to the industry – and provides an excellent alternative and supplement to more academic-based pathways into careers within the dental sector.’

As David suggests, apprenticeships aren’t just good for individuals and employers, but they also benefit the dental sector as a whole: ‘In many respects the dental sector is no different to any other in that you have to invest, not just in technology, but in the people who can use it. The apprenticeship model is an extremely good way of investing in people with the right skills, building for the future. Even if you don’t retain all of your apprentices over time, what you’re doing is building up the pool of technically skilled people working in your industry. This can only be good for the industry, and for the wider economy as well.

‘For many years now I think we’ve had a problem in all the science and technology based industries with the tension between the need for higher academic and technical skills. Obviously we need both of these groups, but we need to find a balance. With the Trailblazers programme I genuinely believe that in all areas it’s involved in, it’s a really worthwhile way of helping to rebalance the “technical skills mix” in the way that the modern economy needs.’

As David concludes: ‘Apprenticeships can be a really positive thing in dentistry, not just for individuals but also for employers and the dental profession as a whole. As such I am delighted to be involved with the Trailblazers programme in dentistry, as I believe it is an incredibly good thing, and encourage other organisations to get involved.’

David Worskett is a non-executive chairman of the Association of Dental Groups (ADG). With a long career both in business and the public sector, David has worked in a variety of roles, and has a broad range of board-level experience including at the RAC, at the former Engineering and Technology Board, and, until recently, as chief executive of the NHS Partners Network.

To find out more about the Trailblazers programme, and how your company could get involved, contact Mustafa Mohammed via [email protected]

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