U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said in Chattanooga on Wednesday that the nation's jobs outlook is "on the right track," but there's a lot more work to do.
Solis, at Chattanooga State Community College to unveil a $3 million training grant, declined to talk about new jobs figures that beat analysts' expectations but are barely enough to cut the jobless rate.
"I do believe, given the circumstances, we're seeing growth in sectors that are being revived," she said, adding that more than 500,000 jobs were created over the last 30 months in manufacturing.
Earlier Wednesday, payroll processing firm ADP said the economy added 162,000 private, nonfarm jobs in September. The Labor Department will release its jobs report Friday.
The federal grant for Chattanooga State, coupled with $2.5 million from the college, will create a new institute in materials joining and training that should benefit TVA and manufacturers such as Alstom, officials said.
Jim Barrott, Chattanooga State's vice president of technology, said training will include nondestructive evaluation of welds for nuclear and other energy systems and infrastructure such as bridges.
"The focus is to train people who have been laid off to be successful in the new manufacturing environment," he said. But, Barrott said, the program will be open to anyone.
Plans are to renovate about 20,000 square feet of space at the college in the former Olan Mills photography property next to the Wacker Institute, Barrott said. He said the program should be running by next fall.
Tim Spires, who heads the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association, said the No. 1 issue he hears from his members is trying to find a well-trained workforce.
He said that even if companies want to expand, some employers worry they won't be able to find enough qualified workers to grow their businesses.
Preston Swafford, TVA's senior vice president of nuclear support, said the federal utility needs qualified people assessing its nuclear plants and other energy-producing facilities.
"Programs like this assure the safety of the systems," he said.
Chattanooga State President Jim Catanzaro said Solis' visit is the first to the school by a member of a president's Cabinet during his 12 years as college president. He said people living in 11 Tennessee counties and four in Georgia will be able to take advantage of the new institute.
Solis, a former five-term California congresswoman confirmed as labor secretary in early 2009, said there's a renaissance in manufacturing going on in America.
"You all have the winning ticket here," she said about the new institute.
Solis toured the Wacker Institute with top local officials for the German company that is building a $1.8 billion polysilicon plant in Bradley County. She said such training is key to bringing back some of the manufacturing jobs lost over the last two or three decades.
"There is a big mismatch of personnel who don't have appropriate skills," she said.
The grant came through the Labor Department's Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College to Career Training initiative.
Also Wednesday, Solis visited Roane State Community College's Oak Ridge campus and announced a $12 million grant to provide more health care training throughout the state.