Gingrich, Summers Talk Solving Senior Living Workforce Crisis

Investing in the professional development of the immigrant senior care workforce and playing a role in their assimilation are two strategies senior living operators can implement in order to curtail the industry’s “alarming” labor shortage.

That’s according two former political heavyweights who spoke Wednesday in a debate titled, “The Impact of the Trump Administration’s Policies on Economic Growth,” at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) 2017 Fall Conference in Chicago.

The labor shortage has long plagued the senior housing industry, and is only further complicated by national discussions surrounding immigration and President Donald Trump’s plan to end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program. If passed, the move could significantly reduce the numbers of workers available to the senior living sector, according to industry experts.

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In addition to attracting skilled immigrant workers, the senior living industry should focus on the professional development of the workers it already has, according to Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“I think there are very few industries more susceptible to developing in-house continuing education than the entire long-term care system,” Gingrich said during the debate.

‘Continuous upgrading’

Gingrich pointed to the power of online educational materials and resources in helping to develop and mold the current senior care workforce.

“I cannot overemphasize the importance of looking at the emergence of all sorts of online and other kinds of learning systems that enable you to take somebody who comes in as an entry-level worker and actually improve their income and their capabilities in a series of steps over a 10- or 15-year period in a way that’s a fundamental change from the turnover models that dominate all too many of our systems,” he said.

This investment in education, he said, leads to a “continuous upgrading” of the workforce.

“When I talk to people in systems about what [it costs them] to replace a worker, it would actually be dramatically less expensive to find ways to have a learning track that enables people to rise in the system,” said Gingrich.

He also lauded the ability of automation systems to increase productivity, as well as to help offset the current labor shortage.

“[In] most of American life, we improve productivity by replacing human labor with a variety of systems that make us dramatically more productive. I think all of that is going to start coming into the field of helping as [older adults] age,” said Gingrich. “It’s going to have a huge impact over the next 10 to 20 years and will change… the kind of labor that you’re looking for.”

Immigration is ‘in our interest’

According to former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Lawrence H. Summers, the immigrant workforce has become a strong thread in the fabric of the U.S. economy.

On the immigration front, Summers—who served his term under former President Bill Clinton, and also served as director of the National Economic Council under former President Barack Obama—explained that there are two principles that business owners need to acknowledge: the growing immigrant population in the U.S., and the importance of immigrants’ assimilation into U.S. culture.

“It is in our interest to have immigrants, especially skilled immigrants, who can contribute to the economy, pay taxes to support the aging population, who can bring entrepreneurial spirit, and who can carry on what has been an extraordinary tradition of the United States welcoming people from abroad,” said Summers during the debate. “I think those who want to see immigration only through the prism of walls and fences are really, very badly misguided.”

Further, integration into the American culture and its norms is crucial in order for the immigrant workforce to succeed, stressed Summers.

“I think if you want to come to the United States as an immigrant, it should be because you want to be an American, and you want to be part of a broad culture of America,” he said. “I think the way forward on this is to understand assimilation to be a central part of the immigration experience and to understand that immigration is a valuable thing for the society.”

Written by Carlo Calma

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