Not so long ago, college graduates in fields like health care, engineering, law and business administration could practically write their own tickets, as the saying goes, when it came to getting a job.
Skilled workers were in such demand in a roaring economy that they could stroll up to booths at job fairs, shake a few hands and maybe fill out an application if a job interested them. If they never got a call for an interview, that was no big deal, because other companies were fighting for their services.
On the job, a new ethic was developing, one that had little to do with working hard. Struggling to hold onto their best people, companies passed out lavish incentives and ran sensitivity-training sessions to be sure their employees were content. Personal growth and job satisfaction were the buzzwords.
One five-year study in the 1990s - paid for by some of America's biggest companies - found a restless workforce more interested in itself than in loyalty to a particular company. If workaholics, toiling until all hours to make big money and climb the corporate ladder, had been the model for the 1980s, workers who saw their jobs as part of their total lifestyle were the norm in the 1990s.
But how things have changed, yet again. Have you seen video of the long lines of the unemployed, who are now jousting with fresh college graduates for the few high-paying jobs that are open? Have you heard the interviews with people who have good jobs, saying they count themselves lucky? Have you heard about the former executives who, for minimum wages, now flip hamburgers or greet customers at discount stores and are thrilled for the work?
In short, it's a buyers' market once again. Employers with jobs to fill hold the cards, and you don't hear so much about sensitivity sessions gauging workers' level of happiness. Right now, many Americans are plenty happy just to have a job.
Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.