Onsite learning


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onsite learning dental
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Continuing education plays a crucial role in the long-term success of any dental practice but can impact productivity. To minimise workplace disruption, some dental experts are now choosing to build their own dedicated learning facilities. By Tracey Porter

The way Dr Dave Houston sees it, $2.5 million isn’t much to pay to grow a network of ambitious dental clinicians eager to secure their future.

That was what the Australia Dental Group (ADG) CEO outlaid to construct a bespoke centralised learning centre and entrepreneurial business incubator just metres away from the largest of his six Queensland-based practices. 

Dr Houston says he was inspired to construct the onsite training facility after recognising that his team of 20 dentists and 50 dental assistants were hungry to broaden their existing skill sets. “We live in a world where all new staff members expect their skills to continue to progress and opportunities for career progression to be provided. A few years ago we had to look inwards and ask, ‘Are we really offering that?’ We knew we needed to do more.”

Doubling existing capacity

The centre Dr Houston built offers a diverse range of education streams applicable to everyone from trainee dental assistants and graduate dentists to implant specialists and practice managers.

Occupying around 80 square metres on a site adjacent to the group’s Burpengary HQ, the ADG team refer to the centre as Transformation 24, or T4 for short.

Dr Houston says this is because its core function is to support all members of staff to learn and grow over 24 months, with the aim of doubling their capacity every two years.

“The impact has been superb with skills and morale growing with each session. Lessons learnt in the morning are being applied in the afternoon.

“I don’t expect any added returns on these investments made, but it should secure the bottom line over time,” he says.

Long-lasting benefits

Digital components play a big part in the centre’s operations with technology deployed to allow dental staff from all over Australia to Zoom in and play an active part in each learning session.

Sessions are delivered by paid in-house and guest lecturers and take place multiple times a week. Typically, these are held mid-morning when the students are freshest.

While conceding that buying the building to construct the learning centre, and funding the administration and teaching of the learning program was a “massive investment”, Dr Houston says the pay-off in terms of productivity, skill level and staff engagement has been well worth it.

We live in a world where all new staff members expect their skills to continue to progress and opportunities for career progression to be provided. A few years ago we had to look inwards and ask, ‘Are we really offering that?’ We knew we needed to do more.

Dr Dave Houston, CEO, Australia Dental Group 

“It could have been done cheaper but we wanted to own the facility and have it benefit our group over the very long haul.”

An outsider’s perspective

Michelle Prichard knows what it takes for dental practices to balance sustained profitability with personal fulfilment. The founder of Aligned Business Consulting has a business and finance background and a history of co-owning and -operating dental and health practices with her dentist husband.

Prichard is a firm believer that continuing education plays a crucial role in the long-term success of any dental practice.

She says group training sessions, in particular, facilitate knowledge sharing, collaboration, and peer support because team members can learn from each other’s experiences, exchange ideas, and contribute to a collective growth mindset. 

“This sense of shared learning and development fosters a positive work environment and motivates the team to continuously improve their skills, leading to enhanced patient care and overall practice performance.”

Prichard says while the concept of onsite education centres is a relatively new one, she believes it has many advantages.

Chief among these is team members can undergo training without significant disruption to the practice. It also offers greater control and flexibility in scheduling and organising training sessions, allowing for a more tailored and efficient training experience.

Having ready access to onsite training could promote staff retention, she adds. “By providing convenient and accessible training opportunities, practices demonstrate their commitment to investing in the growth and development of their team members. This, in turn, fosters a sense of value and loyalty among team members, leading to increased staff retention rates. Team members appreciate the opportunity to enhance their skills and knowledge within the familiar environment of their workplace.” 

Onsite training can also encourage the practice to become more self-sufficient by relying less on external resources for every training need. 

“This increased independence and control over training processes can lead to greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness in the long run. Moreover, the practice becomes better equipped to adapt and respond to evolving industry trends and requirements, ensuring that team members are up to date with the latest advancements in dentistry.” 

Proceed with caution

Yet while she sees the value in onsite training, Pritchard says those considering developing their own onsite learning centre should ensure they can afford it.

She says setting up and maintaining an onsite training facility can involve financial investments in equipment, materials, technology, and ongoing maintenance. Small businesses with limited resources may need to weigh the costs against the potential benefits and consider alternative options such as outsourcing training or utilising offsite training venues. 

There’s also the risk of ending up with an unproductive space, she warns. “Before establishing an onsite facility, it is essential to evaluate the available area and assess what can be repurposed for training purposes. This consideration ensures that the space allocated for training is effectively utilised and doesn’t become an unproductive or under-utilised area.” 

Dr Houston meanwhile has only praise for the impact onsite learning has had on his business. “We now consider ourselves an education business at our core—but one that also runs dental clinics,” he says. “It has been a complete mind shift that more closely aligns with our true calling. This has set us free to innovate and create a truly unique workplace experience.”  

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