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How to Retain Employees for Your Dental Lab

Utah Valley conducting an education program at Roseman University

Maintaining a highly skilled team is crucial to the growth of any business. This principle goes double for dental labs, considering the labor shortage that the industry is currently facing. So, acquiring and retaining talent is a must-have skill for any dental lab owner or manager. 

When it comes to employee retention, we look to Utah Valley Dental Lab (UVDL) for their thoughts and advice.

Kent Kohli, UVDL’s director of operations with over 30 years of experience in the dental tech industry, boasts a “fraction of a fraction of a percent” for their employee churn rate. In this Lab-to-Lab Series episode, we dive into how UVDL achieves just that. 

Who is Utah Valley Dental Lab? 

UVDL is a full-service lab that provides a complete range of dental tech services, such as CAD/CAM design, cosmetic ceramics, removables, and much more. UVDL employs over a hundred people, many of whom are artisan ceramists who ensure the quality and appearance of fabricated restorations. 

UVDL is also a highly respected information resource in the dental world. They are one of the few labs in the US that are invited to help develop post-graduate courses. 

Evident conducted an interview with Kent. He discusses how UVDL managed to have one of the highest employee retention rates we’ve seen in a company and also an incredibly low churn rate. 

Retain Employees through Operations 

UVDL can adapt to both digital and analog workflows. As a result, UVDL’s services can integrate into any dentist’s process. 

Kent mentions that though around 85% of their operations are digital, they still give dedication and attention to their analog processes. This is due to the different ideologies of their workers. Some workers are, as Kent defines them, very “purist” and hence still abide by analog, hand-made methods. 

Each cosmetic team in UVDL decides how they want to go about their workflow — whether it’s analog or digital. Kent states that they try not to mess with how each team goes about their work, as long as each team is profitable and efficient. 

In addition, UVDL’s dental techs get to run small boutique labs without the hassle of admin and accounting work. This allows dental techs to fully focus on lab work, optimizing output and delivery of cases. 

This trust that Kent has in his teams shows that UVDL values the autonomy of its staff. Giving workers the autonomy to go about their work engages them more with their jobs. 

Humans are individuals with creative thought and expression, so micro-managing employees and telling them how to do every little thing won’t be very good for employee engagement. 

Retain Employees through this Equity Model 

UVDL lets its employees buy into the company. 

It’s the workforce that carries the company on their backs. That’s a business fact, not just in dentistry but in any industry. So, employees having skin in the game makes a lot of sense. 

Adopting this equity model started with Richard WIllis, UVDL’s founder. He was inspired by the idea that selling fractions to key employees would result in them being more engaged with their work. Hence, giving employees the option to buy fractions will result in a more motivated and efficient team. 

Employees who have bought fractions of UVDL get dividends from the company’s profits. This is on top of a nice compensation package (e.g., salary, benefits, insurance, etc.). 

As of Kent’s webinar interview with Evident, UVDL has 25 owners, all of whom get dividends from the lab. So, when UVDL gets calls from partners, clients, or inquirers, an owner will do their very best to answer those calls. In the same way, techs will create better-quality cases and account managers will communicate more effectively with partners. 

Overall, employees owning the company will not only create a more engaged workforce but also provide quality service to customers. 

UVDL only sells fractions to its employees. This ensures that the only people who have skin in the game are those who pour their heart and soul out for the company every day. This gives employees the idea that they are working for themselves, not slaving away for someone else’s vision. This can explain UVDL’s impressive employee retention. 

In the event that an employee shareholder retires or leaves the company, they can still get dividends for up to four years. After those four years, UVDL purchases the employee’s stock back at its current value. 

Retain Employees through Technology 

UVDL has an extensive array of tools to properly equip staff to go about their cases. 

  • CAD/CAM software. UVDL supplies both 3Shape and exocad for its designers. 
  • Lab scanners. UVDL has some scanners from 3Shape. 
  • Mills. UVDL has some Roland DWX mills, several PrograMill PM7’s from Ivoclar, and an inLab MC X5 from Dentsply Sirona. 
  • 3D Printers. UVDL does some printing as well. They own three Carbon M3’s from Carbon 3D and three Formlabs Form 3 printers from Formlabs.  
  • Sintering. UVDL supplies sintering solutions too, such as the Programat S1 from Ivoclar. 

UVDL also maintains a partner relationship with its suppliers. As a result, UVDL gets dedicated customer support and success services in addition to the amazing technology they paid for. 

Acquire Employees through Advertising 

UVDL doesn’t actively advertise its services, except for the standard social media approach. As Kent puts it, they don’t send out flyers or buy magazine space. 

Instead, UVDL establishes its authority in the dental space by being a valuable educational resource. 

They teach 10 to 16 weekends a year, which consists of a whole Friday, a whole Saturday, and half a Sunday. These courses are held in the dental school in South Jordan Utah, and some of them are done outside of Utah, such as North Carolina and Atlanta. 

On top of that, UVDL also holds a monthly webinar. 

This kind of marketing approach isn’t just beneficial for UVDL’s marketing. It also establishes its employer branding. By having credibility and authority in the dental lab industry, more people would want to work for UVDL. 

Talent Acquisition 

Kent mentions that UVDL struggles with labor shortages within the local area. So, they use headhunters in different states to find highly-skilled individuals for them. 

UVDL also utilizes HR software that works in conjunction with major job-hunting platforms such as Monster, Indeed, and Glassdoor. 

UVDL provides packages to help bring people from different states and overseas to work for them in Utah. These packages will help incentivize and compensate for the bold move to transfer states. 

In line with acquiring talent, Kent encourages labs to offer their support to local dental schools and universities offering dental programs. This effort helps the community and develops repertoire with graduating students of dental programs. As a result, graduates of those local schools are more likely to pursue working for that lab. 

Outsourcing 

Outsourcing work to other labs and partners allows a lab to get more work done during its downtime. Strategically outsourcing maximizes the efficiency and output of the lab without overworking the staff. 

Kent mentions that the only service they outsource is brand-on-brand implant abutments. Kent clarifies that UVDL doesn’t have the 510(k) to mill the abutments in-house. So, they rely on outsourcing to achieve the abutments that they couldn’t make. As a result, Kent’s lab is still able to run full-service operations, providing all types of services to their dentists. 

Kent doesn’t sleep on the partners UVDL outsources, though. Since a good portion of lab operations will depend on the reliability of the outsourced partners, Kent makes sure that he only outsources within the US. 

So if you’re looking to scale your dental lab, get some digital partners now. Evident’s digital design services, together with our partnered manufacturing facilities, provide a quick, end-to-end solution for your lab. 

Simply send us the patients’ scans from your partnered dentists, and our expert designers will create the designs for you. We also offer lab management solutions and equipment that can help you make the transition from analog to digital. Give us a call now to learn more. 

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