Creating the next generation of engineers

Scott Selbie tells Seb Evans all about the newly-launched DD academy and the benefits it brings to the profession.

The DD group has just launched the DD academy. Tell us what that is?

Scott Selbie (SS): The DD academy is a training academy for engineers. We look to take engineers from the start to the finish so we recruit trainee engineers to become qualified, semi-qualified and also qualified experienced engineers as well. It’s to try and capture all the elements of the requirements going forward.

What do the engineers specialise in; what kind of work do they do?

SS: Our engineers are field-based dental engineers. We essentially service maintain all types of equipment that’s in a dental surgery, from chairs to autoclaves, X-rays to suction systems. We do installation of equipment, work on projects for practices, building new practices. So, essentially, we offer a one-stop shop.

What kind of courses does the DD academy offer?

SS: The academy has now been open for three months. We tailor our courses depending on the actual participants. So, if it’s trainees, we will take them through the basic stages. We train them on basic elements of service and equipment – it might be chairs for example, so it will be fault finding etc, it will be X-ray decon.

We take it at a measured pace based on the experience of the individuals themselves. Semi-qualified might be that they’ve come from an engineering background, so they’ll have some experience but not necessarily in a dental field. We will take that training up to another level. We’ll measure their competency and tailor it for the individuals. For the more experienced engineers, that might just be refresher courses, depending on the skill set. Or, it might be that we introduce them to another dimension. It might be that in the past the engineers worked on X-rays and we now look to train them in decon equipment as well.

What was it that provoked DD to introduce this academy?

SS: It’s purely down to supply and demand. I took over the engineering department just over three years ago. At that point, we probably had about 50 engineers. We’ve invested significantly in the engineering department, in personnel but also in terms of our IT capabilities and our overall infrastructure. With that we found that customer demand has grown.

It’s purely been customer demand that has driven that. If we were at 50 odd engineers three years ago, we are now at 121. We are the UK’s largest. The 121 is still not satisfying demand, and our customers come from high-street dentists, corporate and NHS customers. 

We are trying to keep up with demand, but what we are finding is that there is a shortage, and if you speak to any of our competitors, they will confirm that. There is a shortage in the industry, similar to a lot of industries. With that, what we’ve had to try and do is create the next generation of engineers. We are all competing to recruit those same engineers that is driving costs up etc. We’ve essentially had to go back to basics and recruit our own.

What are the benefits of the DD academy to dentists and the wider dental community?

SS: I think what probably sets us aside from our competitors is that we very much focus on the three disciplines in the dental engineering world. We class them as the three ds:

  • Dental – which is your traditional dental equipment, that could be chairs, compressors, suction
  • Decon, which is the autoclave, washers, disinfectors – a key area that has grown in terms of the focus on compliance
  • Digital – this is still very new in the dental industry. I don’t think a lot of people think about the service and requirements of that.

In an ideal world, what we aim to have is a high number of engineers that are trained in all three disciplines. That would reduce the downtime in a practice. An engineer would go in and service all equipment that requires to be serviced, in the one visit. It reduces downtime, it’s far more efficient for us and far more cost effective for the customer. Compliance is really key as well – we’ve just come through a pandemic so there’s a high concern around infection control. Decon is a very strong area, it always has been for the DD group. We acquired Dolby Medical many years ago. We acquired that group because of its specialism around decon. It’s about driving this forward; it’s a very important part.

Asset management as well – we see that as an important part as being able to give customers all of the access to details of the assets that they have on their site. Not every customer knows all of the information that’s required around their assets. We will be able to tell them how old their equipment is, and it helps with a lot of groups like that from a budgetary perspective, so that they’ll know how to form a plan for capex.

How long are the courses and what kind of feedback have you had?

SS: The academy is based in Blackpool; this complements what we already have in Scotland, which is our decon facility. When it comes to the courses, we estimate that that the initial training for trainess will take 16 weeks, and for semi-qualified engineers we estimate 12 weeks. We train them so that they are in the classroom environment and the field.

Previous to having the academy, we would do all of the training in the field, but that could have different variants in terms of the capability of the engineer or the capability or the person who is training the engineer. So, what we like to do is get them into the classroom environment, train them on the basics and then put that into practice on the field and then come back.

The first few modules might run a couple of weeks at a time: it depends on the type of course that we are running. If it’s qualified engineers, it might be a course that lasts a week, it might be longer if it’s something new that they are being trained on.

The feedback we’ve had from course participants has been very positive. They like the idea of having the classroom environment. They’ll maybe work with a trainer, two trainees, a ratio of maybe 1:4, 1:6. It feels quite a comfortable environment to operate in.

In our academy, we can separate the room into three separate training areas. We can have a number of them working on chairs, a number working on X-rays and a number working on compressors. I’d say our optimal number is around 12 trainees on the course. We can make it slightly bigger than that but it’s not so much about getting the masses through, it’s about having a good level.

Obviously, you’re training these engineers for DD; what are your hopes following the launch of DD academy?

SS: We are up to 121 but we are still finding that, if I’m honest, we aren’t really promoting our services. We aren’t actively marketing what we are doing. There’s a number of other customers and opportunities in the pipeline that we are trying to build into our focus in terms of the number we need. There’s a long way to go in terms of market share in the dental engineering side but with us it’s important to ensure that we train our engineers to a very high level.

It’s about maintaining the level of quality of service that we give to our customers. That’s what’s important. We wouldn’t want people to think that we are just going for the masses. We’re not scrimping on anything that we are doing in terms of the quality of training and what’s required.

I think as more and more customers buy into the three ds and the importance of compliance and asset management; I think our market share will continue to grow. We will never become complacent.

Is there anything else that you’d like to highlight?

SS: I think from our side this is an exciting opportunity with our academy. Our plan is to probably open a third facility in Essex, so what we can do is utilise all three at any one time if we had to. Also, then it cuts down on travel from our trainees’ perspective.

The feedback we’ve had has been very encouraging from manufacturers who previously didn’t have a relationship with DD. They can see what we are doing and are amazed at how quickly we have grown the engineer number up to 121.

That excites them and it is amazing how many manufacturers want to work with us, as do customers – so I think the future is really exciting for DD.    

This article first appeared in Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here.

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