MINNEAPOLIS — 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 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 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, or 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 boomers as the largest generation in the workforce.
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.
CEO Inge Thulin has been determined to help young millennials prosper and gain skills at 3M since before he took charge in 2012. "When you get recognition like that (survey), it is not coming out of the blue. It's a lot of work that is leading up to it," he said.
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 ideas they want to implement to save energy, water and timber.
"That's fun," Garber said. "They are encouraged by management to spend their time that way."