The Future of Work and Employment

“Work” and “employment” are two words which can be used interchangeably in some situations:

I have found work.
I have found employment.

The difference between the two words is a difference of register. That means they are used in different social situations although they mean the same thing.

The Origin of the Words

“Work” is a Germanic word but “employment” is a Norman French word. English is a combination of many Germanic words and also Norman French words, and other words from other sources as well. Let’s look at the word families:

Verb

I work as a kitchen hand at a restaurant in the city. (verb)

Noun – Plural

Workers built the factories so workers should own them. (noun – plural)

Adjective

People are living longer so they will have longer working lives and in the future they might not retire until after they are seventy. (adjective)

Noun – Person

He is a workaholic. Even when he is on holidays, he can’t stop checking emails and doing work-related tasks. (noun – person)

Verb

I was working in a small village on the coast before I moved to the city. (Verb – past continuous tense)

Verb

I have worked hard all my life and I want to enjoy my retirement. (verb – present perfect tense)

Automation and the Future of Work – the problem

Computers and robots are doing tasks which were previously done by humans. Computers and robots are replacing humans. What is the future of work? If robots replace all human work, how will humans spend their time? And how will humans earn a living?

What do you think will happen?
What is the solution to this problem?

Tell us in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Expressing the Future in English

There are three important ways to express the future in English. Click the link to study them:
Three ways to Express the Future

The verb “work” is intransitive but the verb “employ” is transitive:

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

The basic sentence pattern in English is subject verb object. Look at the example:

My company employs sixty people.

“My company” is the subject. “Employs” is the verb and “sixty people” is the object. A verb which takes an object is called a transitive verb but some verbs do not take objects. Look at this one:

I work at a large factory in an industrial area on the edge of the city.

“I” is the subject and “work” is the verb” but there is no object. “At a large factory” is a location. “In an industrial area” is also a location. “On the edge of the city is a place too. There is no object. There are just three location phrases.

A verb which does not take an object is called “an intransitive verb”. It is also possible to say:

I work.

But we do not usually say:

I employ.

“To work” and “to employ” are intransitive and transitive verbs respectively.

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Transitivity and Passive Voice

Intransitive verbs cannot be used to form the passive. You can use passive and active constructions with “to employ”:

My company employs sixty people.
Sixty people are employed (by my company).

With the verb “to work”, there is only one option.

I work.

There is no passive form of an intransitive verb.

Questions

Where do you work?
Where are you employed?

The above questions have the same meaning but the second one is more formal.

Employment – Word Family and Collocations

Let’s look at the word family of “employ” by studying some common sentences which contain words in this family.

Compound Noun

He received unemployment benefits for six months after he lost his job. (Noun)

Although “unemployment” comes before another noun, it is not an adjective. It is a compound noun. Compounds nouns are common.

Another Compound Noun

The unemployment level is rising due to automation. (Noun)

This is also a compound noun.

Verb – Passive Voice

I have been employed at that factory for over thirty years. (verb in passive).

Noun – Person

My employer is planning to move the factory offshore as it is cheaper to produce overseas. (Noun – person)

An “employer” can be an individual or a group or an entity like a company.

Verb – Present Perfect Tense – Passive

I have been unemployed for a year. (present perfect tense – passive voice)

Past Participle Used as Adjective

Unemployed teachers are looking for work in rural areas. (past participle used as adjective)

Verb – Passive Voice

He is unemployed. (passive voice)

This sentence could be analysed in two ways. It could be seen as a “be” verb PLUS adjective pattern like:

he is unemployed
he is confused
he is angry

or a passive voice construction:

he is unemployed
he is confused
he is unwanted

Adjective

People who have no education and literacy skills are not very employable. (adjective)

Verb – Present Simple Tense

We employ a lot of overseas workers because local workers do not have the skills. (verb)

Noun – Plural – People

A lot of employees were laid off because of automation. (noun – plural -people)

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The Grammar of Work and Employment.

Although the nouns “work” and “employment” have the same meaning but a different register, their use is similar in terms of grammar because they are both “non-count” nouns. We do not say “a work” or “an employment”.

The word “job” is different. It is a count noun:

I have a good job but I only have one job. Some of my friends have two jobs.

The Field of Meaning

When we talk about the topic of work, we use words like “job” and employment” but other words are also semantically related:

Labour

“Labour” is a general non-count noun which can refer to people or the work they do.

The factory relocated because the cost of labour was too high.

We sometimes use the word “labour” in conjunction with the word “force” to form the compound noun:

“labour force”

which means:

“the work force”

or

“the people who work”.

Labour and Labor

“Labour” is a sophisticated academic word that is used in politics and academic analysis. Both Britain and Australia have a “Labour Party” which is supposed to represent the interests of working people. Note that in the United States the spelling is “labor”.

Labourer – different register

“Labourer” is a normal working class word that is used to describe unskilled workers:

Unskilled and semi-skilled labourers are generally lower paid than employees with degrees or tradesmen with technical qualifications.

The Marxian Analysis of Class Structure

A typical Marxian analysis of class structure divides society into the working class (labour) or the “proletariat” and the bourgeois class or “land-owning” classes.

bourgeoisie – land-owning (or capitalist) class
proletariat – working class

A Question about Marxism

Are you a marxist?

What is the attitude to marxism in your country?

Class structure

working class
middle class
upper class

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Tasks and Chores

In the classroom and at work we use the noun “task” to describe a piece of work:

I have one more task to complete then I will go for lunch.

“Chore has a different connotation. It refers to tasks that have to be completed at home and it has a slightly negative connotation:

I have to do my chores before I can go out.

Work and Time

These words refer to the time that people work:

shift work
casual work
permanent work
part-time work
full-time work
overtime

Let’s look at the vocabulary in context:

People who work in the police force or in hospitals often do shift work.

Casual and permanent work form a pair of opposites:

I had a casual job before and I only a few weeks every couple of months but I was made permanent a couple of weeks ago and now I have job security.

A casual job is a job where you do not have a long-term contract. A permanent job is a job which will not end.

Part-time and full-time work form another pair of opposites.

When I was younger I worked full-time but now I am older and I work part-time, just two days a week.

Overtime is when you work extra hours. In Australia a full-time job is about thirty-eight hours per week while a part-time job is less than that and overtime is extra hours over 38 hours per week. In some companies employees have to do a lot of unpaid overtime.

Have you ever done unpaid overtime?

Tell us about your experience of work and the type of work you do and the time arrangement in the comments section below.

Hot Rock
at omnos

Topic and Detail

Note that when we talk about a topic we use a general non-count noun in the examples below:

They are talking about travel.
They are having a conversation about advertising.
They are discussing work.

When we talk about specific details we use a countable noun like “trip”, “advertisement”, or “job”:

They are planning to go on a trip to Europe.
He wants to place an advertisement in the newspaper so he can sell his car.
He doesn’t have a a job so he does not have much money at the moment.

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Questions

What will happen to our jobs?
Will we be replaced by robots and computers?
How will we earn money to live in the future?
Will the government take care of people whose jobs have been replaced?

What do you think will happen? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Links

Link to the Work Page
The Story of Captain Vac

Study Grammar at these Links

Understanding Grammar

Three Common Ways to Express the Future

The Nature of English – Time
Passive Voice

Listening

Nine to Five

Time After Time

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