Technology allows jobs to be carried out that are close to perfection and the workforce is disappearing. Automation is expected to be so high in the near future that a large proportion of many professions will change substantially. The introduction of digital technologies has been the main driver of the current revolution.
The latest report by the McKinsey Global Institute “A Future That Works: Automation, Employment, and Productivity”, confirms this trend: almost half (49%) of the work done today in the world by natural persons can be automated. Even in Italy, where the replacement rate would be between 49% and 51%. This means that more than half of Italian workers, about 11 million people, could be replaced by a machine. The World Economic Forum speaks of a loss of 7.1 million jobs by 2020, offset by a gain of two million jobs. Therefore, the negative balance is five million fewer jobs in the world within the next three years.
Crafts will be the most involved and affected by this orientation, followed by work at the counter as the cashier bank (eclipsed by home and mobile banking) or the insurer (overshadowed by online insurance), but also jobs in the operating room and in public services. The cash machine replaces the cashier, the ATM the bank at the counter, Amazon and Ali Baba (just to name the biggest giants) eclipse salespeople and sales agents, Booking the employees of hotels and travel agencies, email the postman, robots the workers, apps and websites the call centre phone operators, in fast food you order and pay via a touch screen, to buy a dress just click the virtual window on the computer screen and wait at home for delivery. There are many other examples of how computer science and its applications have changed the habits of life and disparate professional environments.
But we are here to talk about another profession that is inevitably seeing its stability falter: the dental technician. The profession of dental technician has always been of fundamental importance within the “dental chain”, so much so that it can be defined as irreplaceable and necessary, a central figure of prosthetic dentistry. To think that this profession and the related manufacture of prostheses are not part of this pressing trend towards the complete automation of production processes is by no means realistic. On the other hand, it is right to remember that all the knowledge, materials and techniques currently in the possession and use of dental laboratories have in turn been conceived and experimented with a view to evolution, as it is logical that they will be replaced and archived to leave room for novelty, in an inexorable life cycle that travels along the line of time and requires willingness to change and learning.
Is there a risk that the dental technician will no longer be the central figure in prosthetic fabrication? Who has been saved from the relentless advance of new technologies that replace the human hand with the “robotic arm” or high-performance machines?
The final question is how ready the dental technician is to take this epochal change, how open he is to new markets. The category was divided in half between those who invested and wanted to experience the future through 3D and those who, frightened by costs, learning curve and scepticism about the evolutionary path of the trade, remained faithful to the traditional technologies always had in their possession (delegating the delegable). Surely those who have managed to get on the “technology cart”, have invested in the future, created collaborations with colleagues and business networks to work in synergy, chosen evolutionary paths for their laboratory in a forward-looking and futuristic business perspective, are now floating and emerging.
First of all, you should be able to get the advance of knowledge and have mastered these new basic skills (the laboratory evolves and with it the figure of the professional), know how to take advantage of the time to make choices and investments, communication and sales strategies, propose and adapt to the changing needs of the market with processes with “high added value”. For example, there are those who have focused on medical devices tailored to the prevention of trauma (e.g. professional mouth guards for athletes, footballers, water polo players), there are those who have ridden the market of aesthetic dentistry or orthodontics. Increasing turnover without being stifled again by what is still called a crisis but which in reality could resemble more to a reticence to the “new landscape” and the “new” demands.
Putting aside what concerns learning and the propensity to change, it is right to point out that the 800 million euros of revenue that moves the Italian market of the dental sector (divided between studios and laboratories) have made the eye fall on the considerable presence of companies and centres that deal with 3D printing and CAD/CAM technologies. A market that no longer sees itself with the dental technician’s laboratory alone, but with the dominant presence of milling and laser melting centres.
As stated by the National Union of Italian Dental Industries, in collaboration with Key-Stone statistics, which commissioned the survey, the data show that 24% of dental laboratories rely on CAD/CAM production centres, preferring this working method to the traditional ones of the dental technician. The number of laboratories that decide to rely on these “digital centres” for the entire production process is increasing: from the design to the production of the works themselves.
It is right that the figure of the dental technician integrates in his professional routine techniques and CAD/CAM technologies, able to facilitate the work and the quality of the executions considering that the dental market is physiologically converting all the techniques and technologies, up to being almost completely digital. But are the historical figures of the supply chain (industries and suppliers, dental practices and dental laboratories) developing combined strategic-entrepreneurial actions? The answer is: not yet enough. It is necessary to ennoble the figure of the dental technician and to privilege the collaboration with the dental practices able to appreciate the quality of the Italian laboratories. At the level of business management, the aggregation of companies can be of great support, both to contain costs and to optimize resources and dominate a complex market.
The new technologies will require the inclusion of more technical and qualified professionals to manage the new systems. The training of professionals will be of fundamental and indispensable importance.