South Central College in North Mankato, Minn., launched an advanced manufacturing pilot program Wednesday to give prospective workers more of the high-tech skills factory owners say are desperately needed.

The effort is part of President Obama's Advanced Manufacturing Partnership directive, which aims to link manufacturers with community and technical colleges to improve worker training.

A growing number of manufacturers complain that they can't find, but desperately need, more people who can program and operate computerized cutting, injection molding and robotic assembly machines, as well as other sophisticated equipment that is now typically found on U.S. factory floors.

South Central College officials said the pilot program will focus on four key areas: on-the-job apprenticeships, meaningful academic credentials, high-tech manufacturing skills and school credit for veterans who can demonstrate prior experience.

A news conference was held Wednesday afternoon with officials from South Central College, 3M Co., the Faribault Chamber of Commerce and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

3M Co. in Maplewood and Bosch Automotive Service Solutions in North Mankato have committed to creating apprenticeships with the college. Initially, 15 to 30 apprenticeships for South Central will be created, said school spokeswoman Shelly Megaw. Over time, the hope is that the pilot program blossoms to involve scores of Minnesota manufacturing partners and "hundreds of apprentices," she said.

Dozens of companies have already approached the school asking if they can participate, Megaw said.

To spread the news and gain interest, South Central College is sponsoring two manufacturing summits this week. The sessions will feature Jennifer McNelly, president of the Manufacturing Institute, which is part of the National Association of Manufacturers. The events will be held in Faribault and North Mankato.

The Faribault session will be held at noon Thursday at the American Legion on 5th Street. About 80 manufacturers have signed up to attend.

The North Mankato session will be held at 7:30 a.m. Friday at South Central College at 1920 Lee Blvd.

For more information, contact Megaw at South Central College, shelly.megaw@south