Edmonds College is launching a dental assistant program in January 2023, and the timing could not be better. An overwhelming demand for dental assistants around the Pacific Northwest has left practices scrambling to find qualified candidates to fill positions in the industry. The hope is Edmonds College will be able to alleviate some of the pressure dental practices are currently facing when looking for new employees.
“Since we announced the launch of our program, we have heard from several practices looking for assistance in filling job vacancies,” said Karen Townsend, dean of health and human services at Edmonds College. “By late 2023, we will be able to send qualified students straight from the classroom to the workforce, which aligns with our goals as a college to fill the immediate needs of our employers in the community.”
The entry-level dental assistant program is designed for working adults and those changing careers. Classes will be held in the evening, and some will be online.
Once armed with a dental assistant certificate, graduates will enter a fierce market for their services. With employers increasingly willing to provide additional training for students right out of college, graduates will likely have many options.
Molly Thomson is the director of operations for Harbor Square Dental in Edmonds and was one of several representatives from practices around the community that reached out to Edmonds College.
“We’re so desperate, we’re willing to do more on-the-job training,” said Thomson. “Several years ago, it was easy to find qualified applicants, so we didn’t go directly to schools.
“Dental assistant programs are great. They give students a lot of basic knowledge, but until you’re in a clinic, you will not get a full feel of your job. A lot of training is hands-on when you’re in a clinic. Now, there is such a lack of applicants and a high demand that we’re ready to turn to schools and find someone we’re willing to train.”
For Thomson, finding qualified dental assistants has been a long process. Harbor Square Dental ideally employs three dental assistants, but impacts from COVID-19 and other factors have left the practice in a seemingly never-ending employee search.
“We have been actively looking for another dental assistant for about three years,” said Thomson. “We have been operating with two for the last three years. We finally filled a position, but then we lost another to hygiene school. Now we’re in the same boat again with two assistants, looking for a third.”
Thomson’s story is not unique. Practices all around the region are trying to fill dental assistant positions in their offices. Businesses are having to get creative to entice potential applicants, with some offering $5,000 signing bonuses.
All indications are that the trend will not slow down anytime soon. According to Lightcast, King and Snohomish counties had nearly double the number of job openings in 2021 compared to the national average. Statistics from the Bureau of Labor show that employment for dental assistants is expected to grow 11% from 2020 to 2030.
“With so many job openings in private and group dental practices, Edmonds College is excited to launch a program that will train students and prepare them for the workforce quickly,” said Edmonds President Dr. Amit B. Singh. “Our graduates of the program will be able to compete for well-paying jobs with great benefits, while businesses in the community will have more candidates available to fill vital roles. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Classes are scheduled to start on Jan. 3. For more information or to speak to an advisor, visit edmonds.edu/dental-assistant.