About 2.5 million U.S. workers lost their jobs last year, the largest number since the government began tracking mass layoffs seven years ago. The downsizing trend is changing attitudes toward work.

Two years ago business school professors were complaining their graduate students were so captivated by the entrepreneurial spirit that they were dropping out of school early to start dot-com companies.

There were more jobs than people to fill them and, it seemed, boundless opportunities.

Then came the dot-com implosion, the recession, and September 11.

Today analysts say increasing numbers of college seniors are going to graduate school to put off entering the job market.

Cecelia Evans, from the career management firm called "Manchester," says the job market has changed dramatically? And job seekers' attitudes have changed along with it. "A couple of years ago everyone wanted to be part of a dot-com. Now people are going back to the traditional companies, the old standards, the big companies. There's that desire for security, to go back to the traditional and stay away from the riskier," she said.

Many are finding that security by switching careers. Manchester reports that only 35 percent of the workers downsized in the banking industry last year took new jobs in banking. Sixty five percent moved to other industries.

Manchester outplacement counselor Mark Cheverzone says job skills are often portable from one industry to another and corporate loyalty is an outdated concept. "The issue around loyalty has changed a lot in the sense that from the company's side, there really aren't any guarantees any more, and the employee needs to be aware that they have to take action and stay ahead of the game in terms of where they want to be," he said.

Applications are rising for U.S. government jobs, which were considered "boring" during the "get-rich-quick" dot-com era, but today are considered "secure" and therefore appealing.

Job seekers also appear to be looking closely at growth industries like energy and health care. There's been a surge in applications to nursing schools.

Geraldine Bednash of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing attributes the rise to the escalating demand for nurses and the fact that nursing jobs have become more varied. "It's a job that brings together a science base, a math base, an understanding of the psycho-social impact of an illness, an understanding of the pharmaceutical agent being used, so it is a very complex job and requires a very sophisticated thinker," she said.

Many sophisticated thinkers appear to be attracted to the stability and security of the nursing profession these days.