Gingrich: Look to alternatives to immigration for workforce solutions

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Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (left), moderator Glenn Hutchins chairman of North Island and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers speak at the NIC FALL Conference.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (left), moderator Glenn Hutchins chairman of North Island and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers speak at the NIC FALL Conference.

Chicago — Immigration isn't the answer to senior living's workforce challenges, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich told those attending Wednesday's opening general session of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care.

“Waiting around for the U.S. Congress to send people to you with ‘green cards,' I would suggest, is a relatively weak human personnel policy,” he said. “As a practical matter, that is not where I would go.”

Instead, the keys lie in three points, Gingrich said.

First, he advised audience members, find a way to hire some of the more than 10 million men who have dropped out of the labor pool.

“We are a long way from absorbing 10 million males back into the workforce,” Gingrich said.

Next, develop an in-house continuing education program that lower-level employees can use to advance to higher levels of employment.

“I think there are very few industries more susceptible to developing in-house continuing education than the entire long-term care system,” he said, “and to the degree that we can use online and other autonomous systems, you can have a continuous upgrading of the workforce in ways that I think would be very dramatic.”

The third answer, Gingrich said, is to help address opioid addiction.

“If we don't solve the opioid crisis, we are going to have an enormous problem of unemployability, period,” he said, noting that other drugs can be problematic, too.

Industry groups also should look at how the Japanese and the Department of Veterans Affairs are experimenting with automation, Gingrich said.

“There's going to be a huge impact over the next 10 or 20 years and will change both the kind of labor you're looking for — it doesn't necessarily mean you have less labor, but you have them doing very, very different things — and it increases production in way that has the potential for dramatic profits,” he said.

Long-term, immigration may be a viable solution to the worker shortage in senior living, said the session's other speaker, Lawrence Summers, former secretary of the Treasury.

“I think it's in our country's interest, at a moment when the adult population of native-born Americans is basically not going to grow at all over the next 35 years,” he said. “It is in our interest to have immigrants, especially skilled immigrants, who can contribute to the economy, pay taxes and 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. I think those who want to see immigration only through the prism of walls and fences are really very badly misguided.”

Immigrants, Summers said, however, should come to the United States ready to work and assimilate.

“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 the broad culture of America,” he said. “That means pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States, that means speaking English, that means learning to speak English.”

Day two of the conference also included educational sessions, the return of NIC Talks and, at lunch, a celebration of NIC founder Robert G. Kramer, who was feted for his 27 years of service to the organization. Kramer announced earlier this year that he was moving from the position of CEO to that of full-time strategic adviser. Brian Jurutka has succeeded him as CEO.

The meeting concludes on Thursday.

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