Jason Gantt is rooting for Washington to get a professional baseball team because he enjoys the sport, and because he wants a job.
Gantt, 20, of Temple Hills recently finished a training course in electrical work offered by Job Corps, a U.S. Department of Labor program. At a job fair yesterday at Mount Lebanon Baptist Church in Northwest Washington, Gantt heard from construction union representatives who said opportunities would come with the baseball stadium proposed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) for the shore of the Anacostia River in Southeast.
"I want a job," Gantt said as he picked up pamphlets. "Some people don't want a stadium, but I think D.C. needs one. I came here to tell them I'm ready to work."
The stadium plan still requires approval from the D.C. Council, which is scheduled to take a first vote Nov. 30. If it is passed, the stadium has the potential to provide hundreds of construction jobs.
For people such as Gantt, there is another opportunity: apprentice positions, in which they can work with and learn from seasoned construction professionals.
Jerome S. Lozupone, secretary-treasurer of the union group Building and Construction Trades Council in Washington, said he hopes to recruit more than 100 apprentices for the stadium project. But he said finding young people interested in construction is difficult because many parents discourage their children from pursuing manual labor jobs.
"They want their kids to go to college and not into construction," said Lozupone, who has been in the industry since 1969. "But this is a professional career. We don't just do this for a couple of years because we don't know what we want to do."
Although the mayor has touted the job-creating potential of the stadium, some civic activists argue that such jobs are seasonal and temporary, with few benefits. But Lozupone and others say apprenticing, in which trainees are paid or given tuition assistance, can help prepare novices for lifetime employment in the industry.
The Rev. H. Lionel Edmonds, pastor at Mount Lebanon, was on hand yesterday to support the event because he hopes young people seek a career in construction. He noted that near the site of the proposed stadium, near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street, is another big construction project: revitalizing the Anacostia waterfront.
"That's a 15- to 20-year deal," Edmonds said. "Construction is not just temporary. Once you get into the field and get your training, you go work on the stadium and then go on to other projects."
Apprentices are common on construction jobs, and hundreds are working on current projects in the city, industry leaders said.
Kelly E. Lapping, who said he operates the Laborers' Training and Apprenticeship Institute's apprentice program, a two-year course for people 18 and older, said it has 91 apprentices. They spend four to six weeks in training for hand and power tools, concrete work, masonry and other skills, then go onto job sites and apply their skills while being overseen by professionals.
Lapping said construction workers have a chance to build something that will last. "Our people can see their finished product," he said. "They can come see that they built a landmark. Can you imagine someday sitting in the stadium with your kids and saying, 'I built this stadium'?"
On his way out, Gantt snared a business card from Lozupone.
"Call these numbers," Lozupone said, "and we'll hook you up with the right people."