WASHINGTON - Some of the nation's leading manufacturing companies announced a new program Monday to help veterans gain the skills necessary to fill some of the estimated 600,000 high-tech manufacturing jobs that remain open because employers can't find qualified applicants.

The manufacturers say the program will be initially offered in 10 cities. The companies will work with local community and technology colleges to offer training and to put veterans on a fast track to obtaining certification in such areas as electronics, welding and machining.

The effort to hire more veterans will also involve working with employers. General Electric and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University are developing a reference guide that employers can use to help them more effectively recruit and mentor veterans. The reference guide will be made available to those companies participating in efforts by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the White House to help 100,000 veterans and their spouses obtain work by 2014.

Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had a harder time finding work and the unemployment rate for those veterans is about 2 percentage points higher than the national rate of 7.8 percent.

The new program comes amid the presidential election campaign, in which both President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have cited veterans' joblessness as a top priority.

The companies launching the new training effort are General Electric, Alcoa Inc., Boeing and Lockheed Martin. They are providing about $6 million in seed money.