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Hiring Heroes - our interview with Ros Bowen

Hiring Heroes - our interview with Ros Bowen

Hiring Heroes - our interview with Ros Bowen



Tell us about your background

My background lies in generalist HR roles, with years focused on business partnering and project roles. Prior to resourcing at mydentist, my recruitment experience primarily revolved around recruiting operational management, supporting operational stakeholders as an HR person, and handling graduate hires.

Pre-Covid, at mydentist, I had a dual remit which cut across both HR and clinical resourcing. Since January 2022, I've held the position of Head of Resourcing. Initially an interim role, I enjoyed it so much that I went through the process for the permanent role. On paper, it was an unusual progression route if you were to look at my background - I wouldn't have been headhunted for this role. But, my understanding of the business, coupled with previous experience in clinical recruitment within the organisation, allowed me to bridge this gap.

What are some of the most nagging challenges you face when it comes to hiring?

We work across some incredibly scarce roles. Sourcing qualified dental nurses is challenging. We are, in some instances, able to recruit Student Dental Nurses who are on our accredited level 3 programme. The entry route into the role requires English 9-4 (A-C) qualifications, and individuals begin their vocation as a nurse, and can subsequently progress into roles like practice management or other types of clinical roles. It's a scarce market to attract and, crucially, retain talent, supporting their post qualifications and career progression is key.

The lack of reform within the NHS contracting framework exacerbates the challenge in attracting dentists. We have a great relationship with the NHS, and we support dentists in pursuing careers that involve a mixture of NHS and private practice, although some choose to be private only. Without government reform of the NHS contract, year on year it's increasingly more difficult to attract individuals to provide NHS dentistry. The good news in the context of the current climate is that overseas Clinicians continue to be very interested to come to the UK and provide NHS dentistry.

How have supply shocks, Brexit, the global pandemic impacted hiring at mydentist?

We've always been able to sponsor dentists to come and work in the UK due to the shortage of skilled professionals. But we now need to sponsor individuals from the EEA along with candidates from other parts of the world. As a result, we've doubled our internal resources and are currently sponsoring four times the number of people compared to pre-Brexit times. This entails significant costs, effort, and time, which is what it is - there's nothing we can do to change that. We have a route to bring people over and our focus is on aligning budgets, resources, and processes in order to manage that. We initiate sponsorship for individuals to start, assist those transitioning from their current visa to a mydentist sponsorship and prioritise and manage this.

Practice support roles such a Receptionist and Student Dental Nurses don't meet the criteria for sponsorship. Post-Brexit, there's a scarcity of available resources to fill these roles. When recruiting receptionists and student nurses, we're competing with businesses like Aldi or Wagamama. Everybody has less access to talent pools than they did before, and the brands we are competing with have changed.

And people might think: 'Oh but nurses, you can bring them in from overseas'. There's no qualification from abroad that is recognised for dental nursing, candidates would need to start as a Student Dental Nurse and complete the level 3 qualification.

What have you seen that works (or doesn't work) when trying to solve these?

The service that we provide within the recruitment function focuses on building lasting relationships that we nurture. Someone might not accept a role or start with us, but we want to maintain a relationship with them for the future as people do come back. And we put a lot of work into improving the onboarding experience, improving engagement whilst collecting the necessary compliance documentation. Our onboarding team are customer relationship managers, guiding candidates through a comprehensive process to ensure they're well-prepared and engaged with their teams before they start.

When it comes to clinicians, within the UK there are about a thousand students who will graduate every year from only 16 locations, and they go onto a foundation placement. We have strategies in place to engage university students and maintain contact with them for a number of years before potentially hiring. We have a growing number of foundation dentist placements within mydentist and offer those Clinicians roles post-placement, and we have attraction strategies to engage with newly qualified prospects. We're competing against hospital placements that last one to three years, so we might meet someone in their second year at university but it's a number of years before they work in one of our practices.

Additionally, we have an overseas team who focus on the EEA and the rest of the world to recruit “mentees”. Mentees come to the UK and have an NHS dentist mentor within their practice, this adds more NHS delivery capacity.

Recruiting from overseas has become more competitive due to increased competition / demand in the UK, affecting pay expectations and location choices for mentees. But we're pretty mature in our approach to supporting this pipeline. Excitingly, changes in legislation have been passed which will mean more international dentists will be able to come to the UK to provide NHS dentistry in the coming 18 months.

We often hear “10% of my roles cause 90% of my problems”. Does this resonate with you?

For us, it's quite the opposite, as we have lots of locations that are notably more challenging than others. Essentially, the demand for dentists depends on where they prefer to live and how far they're willing to commute, which greatly influences supply. Areas with more clinicians usually mean fiercer competition. Given the candidate-driven nature of the market, we often encounter candidates specifying a willingness to travel only a short distance from a specific postcode, emphasising the importance of work-life balance, managing wellbeing, and travel flexibility. Even locations that are relatively easier present their own set of challenges. While there might be more dentists available in London, the competition is higher, requiring very swift candidate responses and more negotiation.

As for practice support staff and nursing, nursing supply aligns with the dentist availability within a locality. If we can source clinical hours in a specific location, the demand for nursing spikes. However, we need to plan to grow nursing hours where we increase dentist supply. We're currently working on capacity planning, drawing insights from various projects to understand the requirements in different scenarios. We're restricted by the number of nurses registered with the GDC. While we can offer student roles and training, we also need a balanced skill set within a practice and can't have an entirely student-based setup without mentorship from our qualified nursing population.

So, most locations - except for a few towns and cities - pose challenges, with some being more challenging than others. We rank our locations to guide our activity, but I wish it were only 10% of our roles.

Why is the candidate experience in the hiring journey important?

We operate within scarce markets, particularly in specialised roles, such as orthodontists, where there are only about 1100 in the entire UK. It's about nurturing relationships. Even if there isn't an immediate opportunity in a specific location, we want to be able to tap into our talent pools and network in the future. Providing excellent service and positively representing our brand is crucial. Clinicians are self-employed. They might join, move elsewhere, or seek a change, but they often return. It's different from typical employment; in this field, the 'alumni boomerang' effect is more common. Their decisions are influenced by commute, the practice, and the practice team. Therefore, we invest in building relationships for future opportunities. There are clinicians who return to specific recruiters, as they've established rapport. This aspect is crucial in a scarce market where the pool of potential dentists we can hire is limited.

How have you used data to inform your recruitment strategy?

We agree on a resourcing budget target before each contract year. Our assessment involves aligning business needs with what we believe we can achieve through various channels—whether it involves newly qualified dentists, hygienists, therapists, or overseas recruitment. We further segment this by region and phase throughout the year. We understand the total availability of the market and the plans for each individual practice for the year. Then we work out recruiter targets. Our aim is to facilitate growth in external hiring hours from different channels, while the business is maintaining a strong focus on retention and growth from our existing core.

We also actively monitor changes within the NHS, immigration regulations, and other relevant legislation.

What do you think is the biggest opportunity for hiring leaders when it comes to talent acquisition and candidate experience?

Ensuring that your business focuses on retention as much as it does on recruitment. And we need to be able to clearly articulate why individuals should consider working for our organisation and stand out in the market. Keep a focus on continuously improving and measuring the candidate experience.

When someone is excited enough to accept an offer, try and maintain that excitement and engagement to ensure they actually join. Focus on early career development strategies relevant for your business.

What's a major talent acquisition trend you're paying attention to in 2023/24?

We're currently in the initial phase of a relook at our employer brand and EVP. This will pave the way for our focus on ESG and sustainability. What's clear, and we've looked at it several times with partners in the past, is that we need to be crisper and clearer in our articulation, ensuring that we understand the different groups that we're communicating with. This will support attraction and retention.

Additionally, we're looking into employee—or rather, colleague (given that clinicians are not employees)—advocacy. As part of activating our new employer brand, we're likely to revamp our approach to referrals, which is quite exciting.

What's one piece of parting wisdom you have for future hiring leaders?

Focus on what is within your control and expect the unexpected. Countless times I've had to say 'let it go' because behaviours, candidate markets, and competition keep changing. So, what can we control? Have we done everything within our capacity?

We have to have a huge amount of resilience to thrive in this ever-changing market. As long as we're doing our best, delivering the best results we can, I can sleep well at night. We have to concentrate on what we can control, knowing that market factors and other changes aren't within our influence. These are indeed interesting times.