See more of the story

Cassandra Garber’s plan when she moved to Minnesota in her early 30s was to telecommute and keep her environmental stewardship job at Coca-Cola in Atlanta.

Then one night she went to a party and met up with some people around her own age who worked at 3M Co. They talked up the opportunity there and suggested she apply.

The company did work she would enjoy, they said, hailing pollution-prevention initiatives with customers. It ran contests that awarded employees prizes for suggesting ways to cut power and material use.

“I was blown away. 3M has amazing sustainability programs,” said Garber, now 35 and head of 3M’s Strategic Initiatives for Sustainability. “Here we talk about doing business with purpose [and making] a positive difference in the world. Millennials are kind of expecting it and demanding it. Here, it’s the culture. You can do anything.”

Employers increasingly are focused on attracting and keeping employees in Garber’s age group, the millennial generation born in the last two decades of the 20th century. Few have been as effective as 3M, which recently came out on top in a national survey that asked 13,000 millennials where they would most like to work.

Things that appeal to these workers about the Maplewood-based company include mentors, training in the sciences, leadership programs and lots of flexibility for employees to work on projects of their own choosing. The survey, by the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS), found that millennials are looking for employers that are stridently committed to the environment, social causes, communities, teamwork and flexible work schedules.

With baby boomers hitting retirement age at the rate of 8,000 a day, according to AARP, companies have little choice but to embrace these preferences. U.S. census records show millennials number 83 million strong, displacing baby boomers as the largest generation in the workforce. In Minnesota millennials make up 41 percent of the workforce, state officials said.

A blitz of outfits from 3M and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to consulting giants such as McKinsey & Co. and Deloitte are striving to educate employers so they can create welcome workplaces where this demographic wants to come and stay.

It’s critical, said Sean O’Neil, head of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s Grow Program.

“Businesses are having a harder time finding employees and millennials in particular” in industries such as manufacturing, he said. “So, it’s important to be able to track and retain millennials to make sure we continue to have a strong workforce.”

The industries that are the most interesting to millennials include science, health and technology, according to the NSHSS survey. Ranked 13th was the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

“Survey after survey consistently says that millennials want to change the world and make it a better place,” Mayo recruiting director Brent Bultema said.

At 3M, recruiters and managers carry easy reference charts showing a list of “Millennial Needs” and “3M Offerings.”

CEO Inge Thulin has been determined to help young millennials prosper and gain skills at 3M since before he took office in 2012. “When you get recognition like that [NSHSS millennial survey], it is not coming out of the blue. It’s a lot of work that is leading up to it,” he said during a recent interview.

Studying millennials has helped the company learn that they tend to want freedom, training and diverse leadership. But ultimately, ”they want to know they can make a difference. And here they can and do,” he said.

Garber, the sustainability manager, said her “favorite part of working at 3M [is that] no matter what you are working on, you can spend 15 percent of your time on something of your choosing that has a societal impact,” she said. She works with scientists from around the $30 billion behemoth who constantly have energy, water and timber saving ideas they want to implement. “That’s fun,” Garber said. “They are encouraged by management to spend their time that way.”

Understanding how millennials connect to your company is essential

“Businesses must adjust how they nurture loyalty among millennials or risk losing a large percentage of their workforces,” said James W. Lewis, president of the high school scholars group.

In its fourth millennial survey released in January, business consulting firm Deloitte found a “loyalty challenge.” Some 67 percent of the 7,700 young professionals interviewed planned to quit their jobs by 2020. More than 40 percent planned to quit in two years because they found leadership lacking, felt overlooked or wrestled with inflexible work schedules.

Sarah Sladek, CEO of workplace consulting firm XYZ University in Maple Grove, said millennials are burdened by huge student loans and work because they have to. But they stay when they find work that lets them learn new skills, stay challenged and move into new roles that often pay more, Sladek said.

“Millennials have a financial urgency that baby boomers never had. So they want to know what programs, what training and what mentors are going to help them progress their careers and fast,” Sladek said. “Perks like free food or open floor plans help, but they are the gravy.”

At Mayo, there are employee clubs and programs that allow younger workers to shadow employees in jobs they might be interested in, Bultema said.

Mayo also starts interacting with millennials early in the process. It invites 900 high school students to the health system’s Rochester campus each year to learn about careers. Hundreds of college students and interns are separately invited to interview Mayo nurses, physical therapists and other professionals to develop realistic career expectations.

3M has decided to invest in new hires to build loyalty. By 2025, every employee will have gone through a lengthy leadership training, said 3M CEO Thulin.

“We call it leadership way. We have four different programs depending on where you are in the company. For everyone in 3M today, there is a program for you,” he said.

Some work with customers and scientists in other countries, which exposes them to different cultures and business procedures, Thulin said. The key is that each has a personal development plan.

By the time Genevieve McSpaden, 24, was hired in 2014 with a master’s degree in engineering from the University of Rochester in New York, she was well versed in what 3M had to offer. She’d already studied 3M’s patents and product innovations in college and knew it offered young people “so much more than just Scotch tape. I’ve wanted to work at 3M ever since I was in middle school,” she said. Graduate school and internships reinforced her decision.

“It was extremely exciting to me to see a company always welcoming new ideas and that [it’s] never more than a few years away from a new product,” said McSpaden who celebrated her second work anniversary last month by making cake pops for her co-workers.

When she was hired as an advanced manufacturing technical engineer for 3M’s Optical Film Division, McSpaden was given a mentor, a separate “3M buddy” and enrolled in 3M’s Optimized Operations Engineers and Supply Chain Analysts monthslong training program.

“The coolest part of this training was that we [spent] one week [in a 3M] plant. We were given a project at the start of the week and placed on a team with 10 to 30 people, all millennials, who had different backgrounds,” said McSpaden, a Quebec native.

“We were all working toward one conclusion,” she said. “Millennials are really wanting to change the world in a big way. … To come into work every day and have an opportunity to work on new product developments and innovations that have the ability to change the world is extremely rewarding.”

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725



Millennials: Generally defined as those born between 1980 and 2000

Number: 83 million in United States

Source: U.S. Census

U.S. workforce by generation

Millennials: 53.5 million

Gen Xers: 52.7 million

Baby boomers: 44.6 million

Silents: 1.7 million

Source: Pew Research Center

Why millennials work

•Need money to support themselves and to pay off hefty student loans

•Learn valuable skills

•To make a difference in the world

• Job provides opportunity for collaboration and education

• Job offers training, mentoring and other opportunities for promotion

Source: XYZ University workplace consulting firm

10 reasons why millennials quit their jobs

•Wanted to take risk since recession ended

•To take a job that better fit their identity

•To find a job that would help them stay competitive

•To make a difference in the world

•To be mentored

•So they could use all or most of their skills

•Because they were not given the truth about what to expect on the job

•Inflexible work schedules, which were needed because they were in school and working at the same time

•Opportunities for better pay

Source: XYZ University survey of 502 millennials