"There will be jobs. The question is whether there will be people there to fill those jobs," said Mr. Bush during a Tuesday appearance at South Arkansas Community College in El Dorado, a town of 21,000 people in a region where plant closings and near double-digit unemployment plague the oil, timber and manufacturing economy.
El Dorado's jobless rate was 9.1 percent in February. The latest national unemployment rate is 5.7 percent for March.
"We want people prepared for the 21st century," Mr. Bush declared, saying that the nation's work force needs to stay on the edge of technological change.
Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry was also campaigning on jobs Tuesday, visiting the battleground state of Ohio, which has lost 170,000 manufacturing jobs since President Bush took office. Kerry said that if elected president he would end tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas.
The Massachusetts senator said the change would be part of his plan to create 10 million new jobs in this country. Kerry said 1.8 million jobs have been lost since Mr. Bush took office.
"He's created a lot of small businesses in America. The only problem is, they used to be big businesses," Kerry told a sun-splashed crowd during a rally in a city park along the Ohio River.
In Arkansas, a state Mr. Bush narrowly won in the 2000 election, the president promoted his proposal to overhaul the major federal program for vocational education, the Perkins Vocational Education program.
The plan would channel $1 billion in annual funding from that program into a new Secondary and Technical Education program to improve primarily math and science education at vocational schools.
Mr. Bush's initiative would require such schools participating in the program to offer four years of English, three years of math and science, and 3.5 years of social studies.
He would also establish a public-private partnership in which the government and private enterprises would split the costs of $100 million in grants to low-income students who study math or science.
, Mr. Bush also defended his war record, saying that he acted on the best intelligence available in arriving at the decision to topple Saddam Hussein and asserting that America is winning in Iraq.
"We're now marching to peace," said Mr. Bush.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., has declared that Iraq has become "George Bush's Vietnam." The Bush campaign dismissed Kennedy as a "hatchet man" for Kerry.
Kerry is suggesting President Bush is playing politics by stubbornly adhering to the June 30 date for turning over political control to the Iraqis.
Organized labor has been especially harsh on the job training aspects of the Bush program for the economy, saying that his "rosy rhetoric" doesn't match his record.
"Bush has slashed training programs, allocated fewer resources and trained far fewer — not more — workers in his tenure than during previous administrations," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said.
In recent months, El Dorado officials have had to endure the announced closings of Prescolite lighting company and Columbian Carbon chemical plant, with a total loss of more than 160 jobs.
"It's very slow. There are not a lot of jobs here," El Dorado Mayor Bobby Beard said. "We're lucky that we've got plenty of high-end paying petrochemical jobs that are helping us get by."
Meanwhile,when fewer than 1,000 people showed up at a Monday night gathering to sign their names to petitions, but aides to the independent presidential candidate said he would try again.
A total of 741 people came to a Portland theater to sign the petitions — 259 fewer than those the veteran consumer advocate needed to qualify for the Oregon ballot, said state elections director John Lindback.
"Even the best basketball player doesn't get a slam-dunk every time," Nader told the crowd Monday, acknowledging the numbers fell short.
The low turnout is a blow for Nader, who has been counting on using his traditional strong showing in the liberal northwestern state to make it the first state to put him on the 2004 ballot.