U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona held a roundtable discussion in the Capital Region on Tuesday as federal officials start visits around the nation as part of President Joe Biden's Investing In America tour to tout his administration's efforts to bring manufacturing jobs back to American soil and alleviate foreign dependence.

The nation's higher education system needs to be prepared to train a new workforce after last year's Congress — controlled by Democrats at the time — passed bills such as the American Rescue Plan, the CHIPS and Science Act and Infrastructure law to make the U.S. economy more competitive.

Cardona and U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko toured Hudson Valley Community College in Troy on Tuesday to learn about advancements in career and technical education and how to best prepare students for jobs in the emerging industries.

"We're gonna make sure that we have students that are prepared to take on these high-skill, high-career jobs to make that possible," Cardona said.

State Labor Department Commissioner Roberta Reardon and SUNY Chancellor John King and also participated.

High school students who attended were part of the college's P-TECH and Smart Scholar Early College High School on STEM careers, or science, engineering, technology or mathematics. A trio of ninth and tenth graders showcased what they've accomplished through project-based learning, and details about their preparation to pursue jobs in those industries.

"There's a role here for the federal government to make sure that we're providing the dollars for the community colleges, [and] make sure that we're providing the infrastructure needed so that these programs can happen across the country," Cardona said.

Officials also viewed the college's technology used in manufacturing courses and simulation training for welders, which conserves materials and keeps students safe.

Private companies have announced more than $491 billion of investment across the country in manufacturing semiconductors, electronics, clean energy, infrastructure and more since the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act.

It's unclear how long it will take for the manufacturing work and jobs to materialize as the investments were intended to take several years. Companies last year announced more than $40 billion investments in the state over the next two decades to build semiconductors and clean energy projects, which is expected to create more than 10,000 jobs.

The push for more programming comes amid declining enrollment at community colleges, especially post-COVID, and a shortage of educators to provide the necessary training, but federal officials dismissed the concerns.

"There's a demand, which will drive enrollment, it'll drive staffing," Cardona said. "We recognize in this administration that this is not a luxury, there's a demand. There's a demand for the next generation workforce and we have a responsibility in education to make sure we meet that, and we have a responsibility to build up our community colleges to connect to our high schools to make sure that we're connecting kids to careers."

Cardona acknowledged the potential struggle to retain teachers and educators to train students headed to work in a high-paying technical career.

"Some of these students will be making six figures," he said. "I think the challenge is going to be keeping a staff when you have folks in their first year making more than a mid-career teacher."

After the tour, Cardona led a roundtable with local business leaders about making those investments a reality — one of many to be held nationwide. They advocated to get younger students excited about STEM careers, and how to best connect them to certification programs, internships and apprenticeships.

"We are growing these jobs — we need to build them with the young people," Rep. Tonko said. "A great percentage of our population is under the age of 19, so we've got a ready audience."

Cardona said greater federal investment is needed to ensure opportunities are available for students to learn the right skills to meet the demand.

The secretary spoke with each local stakeholder at the table, and highlighted their focus on making sure certain communities and neighborhoods are not left behind.

Labor Commissioner Reardon said women cannot be forgotten in industries that are typically dominated by male employees.

"Don't leave women out of the workforce," she said at the end of the discussion. "Over 50% of the workers in this country are women, but they are under employed or not employed at all, and we need them desperately. We need young women to know that they can be in the building trades. They can do CHIPS, they can do anything they set their minds to. And they can certainly come here to Hudson Valley and get a great education."