Two young women wearing facemasks stand over a patient laying back in a dental chair.

Central High School (Jefferson County) student Miya Robinson assists with a patient at the Mortenson Dental Partners Highlands location. Mortenson is part of the Registered Apprenticeship program, which combines on-the-job training and classroom instruction under the supervision of an experienced industry professional.
Submitted photo

While the need for dental assistants is increasing, there aren’t enough graduates to fill all of the open spots, said Sherri Toohey-Taylor, director of human resources for Mortenson Dental Partners, the largest group of privately owned, doctor-run dental practices in the United States.

Mortenson had to think beyond its usual recruitment strategies.

“The opportunity to support and nourish young talent from right here in the community was very appealing to us and we felt the Registered Apprenticeship program was an ideal fit for this new strategy,” Toohey-Taylor said. “Through this experience, we can potentially find a long-term team member who has been trained with all the necessary skills right here under our own roof!”

A Registered Apprenticeship is an employee training program that combines on-the-job training and classroom instruction under the supervision of an experienced industry professional. It is a proven strategy for recruiting, training and retaining employees that leads to a nationally recognized credential validated by the U.S. Department of Labor.

They had to look no further than the Central High School (Jefferson County) Dental Assisting program for skilled local talent. Instructor Rodshay Brooks said students in the program are retaining dental terminology and procedures more efficiently through curriculum taught by

“Central’s Dental Assisting career pathway prepares apprentices by providing the foundations to become a professional dental team member,” Brooks said. Students begin the pathway freshman year and by senior year, the student has gained enough knowledge of the industry to qualify for a work-based learning experience.

Central High School students Miya Robinson and Ruth Riveron Perez are Kentucky’s two first dental assistant youth apprentices.

“On-the-job learning is helping me prepare for my career because I am so hands-on, it’s easier for me to learn better than just watching, Robinson said. “I also get a feel for how things will be when it comes to dealing with patients, employees etc.”

“The apprenticeship is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” agreed Riveron Perez. “This helps me to improve my techniques and practice in order to have more experience and achieve a better performance. This program helps me to grow my interpersonal skills and professionally prepares me to be a better worker in the future.”

According to Dr. Blair Brown, a dentist at the Mortenson Dental Partners Highlands location, these students are really helping to fill a shortage and not just taking a passive approach to their education.

“(Robinson’s) willingness to learn has been impressive, as well as her commitment,” Brown said. “It has been nice to have an extra pair of hands to help out, especially since we have been short an assistant.”

Highlands Office Manager Beth Garr and Ana Pantoja, expanded duties dental assistant, have been equally impressed.

 “Thankfully we have an apprentice that is eager to learn and is mature,” Pantoja said. “You are able to refresh your knowledge while training someone.”

Brown encouraged other employers to consider whether a Registered Apprenticeship can help them meet their current needs, as well as help train the next generation of professionals.

“I would say it is a worthwhile endeavor to not only train for potential future employees, but also to help the next generation of dental field workers get experience,” Brown said. “I feel it is a responsibility to pass on knowledge to those who have a desire and a commitment to learn.”

Brooks said its good news for her students that offices like Mortenson Dental Partners want to continue to participate in the Registered Apprenticeship program,

“Students are eager to jump start their career and are willing to be molded into a well-rounded and long-term employee,” Brooks said. “The youth apprenticeship is beneficial because it allows students to have hands-on clinical experience to go along with material learned in the classroom. Apprenticeships also allows students to interact with patients, which in turn builds their chairside manner and confidence. It warms my heart to see the students come out of their shell and exude confidence.”

Watch this video to see Riveron Perez performing her skills on the job.

For more information about the TRACK Youth Apprenticeship program, email Mary Taylor at the Kentucky Department of Education.