What is a Work Force?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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The term “work force” is used in several different ways. In the first sense, it is the entire pool of people who are available and willing to work, including both unemployed job seekers and people who have jobs. In the second sense, it refers specifically to a pool of people within a specific industry or company. People may also talk about a work force specifically in terms of people who are engaged in manual labor, excluding executives and other white collar professionals from the collective work force. Typically, the context of the term illuminates the meaning.

Many nations study their work forces very closely, because the work force can provide a wealth of information about the people who live in a country. For example, a country with a high percentage of unemployed highly trained professionals might be experiencing an economic downturn, while a shrinking pool of available manual laborers might suggest a number of things, such as a lack of interest in manual labor jobs or a growing trend to use overseas production sites for such tasks. The number of unemployed people in the work force is often a topic of interest for economists, since it can provide hints and clues about the direction of a national economy.


Many nations seek to have a low unemployment rate, utilizing the maximum possible number of people in the work force. Low unemployment rates tend to be good for national economies, as they imply that most citizens have spending power, and they also tend to reduce social unrest. Because the unemployment rate is often viewed as a key economic and social indicator, some countries go through elaborate maneuverings to keep their unemployment rates low, such as dropping people who have been unemployed for six months or longer from the unemployment rolls to make their rates look better.

In terms of a specific industry or company, some industries deliberately try to develop a larger and more talented work force so that they can expand. For example, many companies invest in potential employees with things like training programs and internship opportunities. Entire industries may also hold informational sessions at colleges or offer economic incentives to people choosing to pursue employment in that particular industry.

The age at which one enters the work force varies, depending on the region of the world in which one lives in and factors like the pursuit of higher education. As a general rule, all able bodied people over the age of 16 are viewed as potential members of the work force, with many nations assuming that people over the age of 60 or 65 do not work.


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