President Obama emphasized the importance of creating more manufacturing jobs on Wednesday, looking to show that he has a vision for job growth as many Americans are questioning his ability to revive the economy.

“I see a future where we train workers who make things here in the United States and continue an honorable tradition of folks working with their hands, creating value, not just shuffling papers,” Obama said during a speech at a body shop used to train students in car repair at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria.

In front of a crowd of business executives and students in the school’s automotive training program, Obama touted Skills for America’s Future. The joint partnership between businesses and community colleges is setting up a credential system that it hopes will make it easier for companies to hire new workers.

The initiative, which the Obama administration is supporting but which is not directly funded by the federal government, would essentially ask industries to tell community colleges exactly what skills workers need to get hired for specific jobs. The community colleges would create courses that would lead to a specific credential recognized by the industry, which in theory would then hire the students after they graduate.

Skills for America’s Future has a goal of providing such credentials to 500,000 community college students around the country.

“The goal isn’t just making sure that someone’s got a certain certificate or diploma,” Obama said. “The goal is to make sure your degree helps you.”

The president is trying to cast his tenure as the catalyst for a manufacturing renaissance. He cites programs such as Skills for America’s Future and the revivals of automakers Chrysler and General Motors under his leadership. The nation’s factories have added 250,000 jobs since the start of 2010, the largest industry growth in a decade.

The emphasis on manufacturing is a part of the administration’s broader economic agenda. Under Obama’s “Win The Future” proposal, the government would invest heavily in education and innovation. Congressional approval for the plan is uncertain. Republicans are broadly opposed to increases in federal spending.

Politically, the speech showed the White House’s strategy to show the president talking about the economy, even if he is not proposing any major initiative. Obama spoke last Friday at a Chrysler plant in Toledo, Ohio, to essentially praise his administration for bailing out the company in 2009.

Virginia, like Ohio, is a key swing state, which Obama won in 2008 and which his aides say will be critical in the 2012 reelection campaign.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Wednesday showed a dip in Obama’s approval ratings since last month and major concern about the economy. Fifty-nine percent of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy, and 44 percent described the state of the economy as “poor.”

Republicans are sharply criticizing the president on the issue, arguing that the increase in unemployment last month to 9.1 percent shows that Obama’s policies aren’t working.

“I’m sure the job creators and the workers the president meets with are telling him the same thing that they tell me every day,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a speech Wednesday. “Most people think Washington is too intrusive, that it imposes too many job-stifling regulations and sends too many mixed signals today for anybody to plan for tomorrow. We know that many who could hire right now are holding back because they don’t know what else to expect in terms of regulations, taxes, mandates, and fees.”

During his speech at the community college, Obama referred to the nation’s sluggish pace of growth: “We are slowly recovering from a very painful recession.”