In September, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which falls under the Department of Labor, lowered the occupational status of dental technicians from skilled to unskilled labor in compliance with a new education and training classification system.
The downgrade is the result of an overhaul of the Bureau's 50-year-old reference guide for labor statistics that identifies the education and training needed to be hired and become competent in a given field. Under the old system, technicians were classified as skilled laborers, in a category of workers who possessed two to four years of advanced education to succeed in their jobs. Now, technicians are classified as unskilled laborers who only require a high school education. The NADL is concerned about the repercussions of the reclassification and is lobbying the Department of Labor to reverse it. "The proposed classification change for dental technicians to another occupational rating could adversely affect the ability of economic development incentives, such as training grants for dental laboratory technology schools and employers...Further, such a rating may result in high school guidance counselors not looking at technology as a healthcare-related career option to promote to students," says Bennett Napier, CAE, NADL Co-Executive Director, in the Journal of Dental Technology's November/December 2010 issue.
In a letter to the Bureau's Employment Projection Program, Napier argues that the bureau's statistics used to make the new classification are not representative of the industry. For instance, while a federal study cited by the Bureau cites that only 28% of technicians have at least an associate's degree, an NBC survey of its technician-members shows that 58% do.
Napier also says a reversal is justified due to the CDT designation required by some states to operate a lab, the skill required to work with CAD/CAM technology, dentists' increasing reliance on technicians for technical guidance, and the industry's requirement to comply with the FDA's Good Manufacturing Practices. The ADA also sent a letter to the bureau supporting the NADL's position.
In December, the NADL received a response from the Department of Labor which recommended the NADL direct its request to the department's National Compensation Survey Bureau. The NADL is seeking further action through this office; watch LMT for updates.