PHOENIX -- The students in the introductory level engineering class at Estrella Mountain Community College in Avondale, Ariz. got a rare opportunity on Monday to show the nation's Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, their technical skills.
Solis toured the campus after it was selected for a federal grant to expand training for skilled jobs in the mining and energy industries.
Marcial Funez, 20, showed off a motorized model ferris wheel he and his classmates built to the Labor Secretary. Funez is aspiring to be an engineer at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.
That power plant is one of several employers partnering with Estrella Mountain Community College and four other colleges to develop a pipeline of graduates who will ready for local jobs.
The federal grant of $13.4 million to the consortium is to help train 7,500 Arizona workers in the next three years.
Solis said it is essential to give workers the skills that local employers need.
"The ability that so many people could come in and out of the system at any point, whether they are a high school student, or whether they are someone who is already an incumbent worker -- working for an industry that comes in for more training -- is going to make them more competitive, but also the industry more competitive," Solis said.
She emphasized that a goal of the program is to help workers who have lost their jobs or whose jobs moved overseas gain the skills needed for fields that have openings.
The federal initiative gave out $500 million in grants last month to schools across the country, including campuses in California, Texas and New Mexico.
The Obama administration is touting the program just weeks before the presidential election, where jobs is a major issue.
EDITOR'S NOTE: KJZZ is licensed to the Maricopa Community College District, which operates Estrella Mountain Community College.