As the first generation to grow up with Facebook and Twitter, those born since 1980 were raised under the mantra "you can have it all," observes Mindy Deardurff, director of the Undergraduate Business Career Center at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.

Dubbed millennials, they are the most educated generation ever. But millennials also are leaving school with record levels of student debt. The unemployment rate among workers 34 and younger remains higher than for older workers; a significant number of young adults have moved back in with their parents, and many have either experienced layoffs or witnessed peers and parents losing jobs during the Great Recession.

Millennials enter the world of work with a set of experiences and expectations very different from previous generations, Deardurff added, ranging from having a formal mentoring relationship and flexible schedules that recognize they have a life outside of work, to a clear road map for changing jobs or locations within a firm after a couple of years. With a reputation for being more focused on friends and life outside of work than on an employer or a career, millennials present unique challenges for companies trying to attract, recruit and retain younger workers.

But employers are trying.

With a placement rate hovering near 90 percent and an average signing bonus of $3,000, Carlson grads are in high demand, Deardurff said. In competing for candidates, some companies "get flashy" with recruiting trips to Disney World. Others start recruiting freshmen to encourage long-term thinking. Still others, expecting lots of turnover, hire people in volume.

Rigid style doesn't work

But not all employers are willing or able to go after millennials. Traditional organizations with rigid work environments and midsize companies lacking the resources to accommodate flexible work schedules "have a very difficult time" attracting younger workers, she said.

With 80 percent of its workforce born since 1980 and the average age of U.S. employees around 30, the global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is a self-described "millennial organization." Last year the firm surveyed 44,000 of its employees to better understand the different attitudes that affect retention and turnover. The survey's conclusion: "When you were born definitely makes a difference."

PwC found that millennials are motivated by "social needs" such as supervisor feedback and support, work flexibility and team cohesion in contrast to those born pre-1980, who are more motivated by "transactional needs" such as control over their work, development opportunities and pay.

The PwC Minneapolis office anticipates hiring up to 100 people in the coming year, many of them off college campuses, according to Tom Montminy, managing partner for PwC's Twin Cities office.

Meeting its younger employees' expectations for balancing work and personal lives is "a key challenge to managing a services organization," Montminy said. Last year, the company's U.S. offices developed localized, flexible work plans during the busy year-end financial reporting season, sending the message to "tell us what you want and we'll talk about it," he said. "If we can't have flexibility, then we're failing as an organization."

Less formal at Target

Target Corp. has recently eased up on formality at its downtown Minneapolis headquarters, where 10,000 employees work, according to Emily Fritz, who heads up campus recruiting at the site. In an e-mail, Fritz said Target's new policies are not focused on one group. Yet the changes seem geared to the millennial mind-set.

Earlier this year, the retailing giant relaxed its corporate dress code and added more flexibility around "when and where people work," she said. Target's Nicollet Mall headquarters has "unique work spaces" where employees can gather informally, work up a sweat in group fitness classes or on a basketball court, or just relax in a gaming area or around a firepit.

Winona-based Fastenal Co., the $3.2 billion industrial supplier, may not be in the most exciting industry to attract younger workers, admits CFO Dan Florness, but the company has a focused effort to attract younger people. Coming off a strong 2012, Fastenal expanded its workforce by 10 percent to more than 17,000 employees, primarily in its 2,700 sales and distribution centers around the country.

Twenty-five percent of its hires are part-time college students, Florness told an investor audience recently. The company adds two to three people for every full-time position it anticipates needing down the road. This strategy allows students to learn the business while in school and gives Fastenal managers the chance to identify employees to retain after graduation.

Brad Allen is a Minneapolis freelance journalist and former investor relations executive for companies including Imation Corp. and Cray Research. His column appears ­monthly. His e-mail is