Will I Still Have A Job

My daughter is about to embrace tertiary education and I often wonder what sort of job she'll have in 20 years. If you are a parent of a teenager about to embrace tertiary education you will be canvassing career options offering future roles that may not yet exist. If you have been to a Careers Evening your teen may have been profiled by a careers advisor and given a shortlist based on their personal strengths and interests.

On one occasion a visiting University Professor gave an interesting perspective. She said "I'm not here to tell you to follow your dreams - I'm here to tell you where you might get employment in the world". She based her strategy on the fact that more than 15% of some EU University graduates are unemployed and India and China have the largest populations of highly educated and hard working youngsters who are competing for top spots at global universities. The Kiwi no.8 wire mentality was clearly no longer going to provide an edge in the global amphitheatre of job security. She outlined a list of the key strengths and sectors where jobs would be plentiful - all aspects of food production, anything to do with technology, and services and provision for an aging population. Dental hygienists were nicely positioned to be in demand.

Working extensively in dental education with young dentists I contemplate their professional future. So when BBC Technology ran an online test of automation risk, based on research by Oxford University academics Michael Osborne and Carl Frey, I was intrigued to see where dentistry sat. Fortunately the result from "Will A Robot Take My Job?" revealed that it was quite unlikely at 2% risk.

Dental technicians didn't fare so well at 27% and dental nurses sat at 60%. The dental laboratory industry has already seen a reduction in workforce numbers. Globalisation of services, possible by scanning and milling advances, monolithic materials and cloud sharing of data, has enabled labour intensive activities to be deferred to large scale, centralised design and mill operations.

There will always be a place for the artisan in dental technology but It is no longer necessary to wax form and texture by hand. A diagnostic wax up can be created from scanned image banks of the natural dentition - nature is the best designer in a dental world where bio-emulation and biomimetic dentistry are hot topics. Models are printed to form a mockup which is returned to the dentist for duplication in the mouth. The ceramist becomes the creative director, materials curator and ultimate artisan finisher.

Dental assistants ranked at a higher risk of replacement by automation. Their tasks will shift towards a collaboration with technology - becoming scanning assistants rather than model pourers, deliverers of cassette-based sterilisation to an automated infection control production line, and touch screen collectors of information. Even the dreaded ''recall' phone calls are now automated campaigns run by Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications.

Whilst computers perform cognitive tasks of rapidly increasing complexity, simple human interaction has proven difficult to automate. Relationships, emotional intelligence and complex physical dexterity is hard to replace by robotics. Dental assistants will still need good technical skills, such as airway management, and human interaction will be essential task, as it always has been. Dental assistants will need added skills such as social awareness, media literacy and digital competence to remain valuable in the workforce. Are we training our assistants with this focus in mind and are we recruiting from a different pool of digitally savvy Gen Y's and Millennials?

The Institute For The Future, a Palo Alto based not-for-profit think tank, highlighted 10 core competencies needed in a future workforce in their 2011 document Future Work Skills 2020:

  • Sense making
  • Novel and Adaptive Thinking
  • Trans-disciplinarity
  • Computational Thinking
  • Cognitive Load Management
  • Cross Cultural Competency
  • Virtual Collaboration
  • Design Mindset
  • New Media Literacy
  • Social Intelliegence

So how do we retain a competitive advantage and stay abreast of workforce trends?

Smart dentists and dental organisations are starting to recruit teams with different skills - high levels of digital competence coupled with social intelligence and good clinical skills. Digital vernacular may become as valuable as dental knowledge. Situational adaptability remains important in the delivery of dental care - responding to the varied and unique needs of patients throughout the day. Dental education has traditionally taught that degree of responsiveness and it is honed with experience.

Feeling skills are not as easily taught - the ability to build trusting relationships to retain clients will become even more important in a world where consumers are swamped with choice and social media allows tempting offers with the guise of transparency. Authenticity, privacy and truthfulness will be prized. Dentists who lack digital know how and are uncomfortable with the mobility and pace of information will find it increasingly difficult to adapt. Equally trans-disciplinarity, or the acquisition of a wider range of complex skills, will be increasingly important to manage the complex issues of an ageing dentition.


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