Speaking at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, the president said: "We've got to light more sparks all across America."
"We've got to do everything we can, everything in our power, to strengthen and rebuild the middle class," he said, and community colleges will be key.
Obama announced "several new commitments by the private sector, colleges and the National Association of Manufacturers to ... make it possible for 500,000 community college students to get industry-accepted credentials for manufacturing jobs that companies across America are looking to fill."
Before his remarks, Obama met students at an auto repair class and said, "Keep up the good work."
Obama's pact with NAM's Manufacturing Institute expands a national Skills for America's Future initiative to align community-college curriculums with company demands, which Obama announced Oct. 4, the White House said.
The Skills for America's Future expansion is intended "to dramatically improve industry partnerships with community colleges and build a nationwide network to maximize workforce development strategies, job training programs and job placements," the White House said.
Besides the Manufacturing Institute, Obama was expected to announce a board of business and non-profit executives to support Skills for America's Future. They include:
-- Greg Brown, chairman and chief executive officer of Motorola Solutions Inc., a data-communications and telecommunications-equipment provider that succeeded Motorola Inc. after the January spinoff of the cellphone division.
-- Bill Green, chairman of Accenture PLC, the world's largest consulting firm, including management and technology consulting.
-- Brad Keywell, co-founder and director of Groupon Inc., an online company that provides customers with discounts purchased in bulk.
-- Nick Pinchuck, CEO of Kenosha, Wis., tool and equipment maker Snap-on Inc.
-- David Zazlav, CEO of media and entertainment giant Discovery Communications Inc.
-- Ellen Alberding, president of the non-profit Joyce Foundation, which funds workforce development, education and job training for low-income workers.
-- Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, the two-year schools' primary advocacy organization.
Penny Pritzker, a Chicago business executive and Obama fundraiser who sits on the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, is to chair the board, the White House said.
Pritzker's family owns companies that make electrical and industrial components and transportation equipment.
The U.S. manufacturing sector employs more than 11 million workers and would be one of the 10 largest economies in the world if it were counted separately, the White House said.
Manufacturing companies account for two-thirds of private-sector research and development and roughly 90 percent of all registered patents, the White House said.