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Skills Shortage List For Dental Assistants

16 March 2005

Dental Assistants Placed On Immediate Skills Shortage List

Recruiting and retaining experienced overseas dental assistants in New Zealand will now be that much easier.

Auckland's ProudMouth Caring Dentistry successfully led a call to relieve New Zealand's shortage of senior dental assistants, by getting the occupation placed on the Immigration Service's current Immediate Skills Shortage List.

This means that dental practices will now have greater success in recruiting experienced overseas dental assistants, and assisting them to stay here longer.

ProudMouth CEO, Charles Dawson, said dental assistants play an incredibly important role in dentistry that requires a high level of ability and knowledge.

He said the problem facing New Zealand's dental industry was the demand for experienced dental assistants far outweighed supply.

"In New Zealand, there is no formal training for dental assistants so naturally it takes time to reach a certain level of competency on the job. We also found many new assistants viewed the role as a short term career," said Mr Dawson.

To strike the right balance of senior and new assistants, ProudMouth began recruiting experienced overseas dental assistants who were here on working visas. In many overseas countries, dental assistants are formally trained and the role is a recognised profession.

But while overseas assistants filled the gap, it provided temporary relief as workers had to leave once their visas expired.

"We had a sense of desperation when at one stage we had to go 30 per cent down on staff required for certain jobs, because of the dearth of experienced dental assistants," said Mr Dawson.

ProudMouth took action to find a more long-term solution. It consulted with Government agencies, industry training organisations and unions, with a view to getting dental assistants on the Immediate Skills Shortage List. The List is expected to be reviewed again in three months' time.

"Now that dental assistants are on the list, they get priority when applying for longer work permits here. One of our senior assistants from Japan has now been able to stay in New Zealand longer, which is fantastic," said Mr Dawson.

The purpose of the Immediate Skills Shortage List is to enhance and streamline the processing of work permits and visas, as well as approvals in principle for work permits or visas where there is a known labour market skills shortage.

Dr David Crum, Executive Director of the New Zealand Dental Association, said the NZDA recognises the same problem and concentrates its resources on New Zealand students.

"This year we introduced for the staff of our dentist members a new 10 module training course, nationwide. We currently have over 200 students enrolled and this along with in-house training such as that at ProudMouth provide a significant contribution to developing the workforce," said Dr Crum. ProudMouth has also been developing an in-house training programme for dental assistants, to address training and supply issues.

The "Levels" programme, which will be launched later this month, provides formal training for new assistants to help advance their skills from junior to senior level more quickly. The course also provides opportunities for further education in areas such as dental hygiene.


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