JIM STINSON Post-Tribune staff writer

Major Moves, Indiana's road-improvement plan, will soon begin pouring its $3.8 billion into construction work.

On Thursday, Gov. Mitch Daniels will come to Northwest Indiana to announce just who will be charged with the task of running 16-week, pre-apprenticeship programs for prospective black and Hispanic workers under the program.

Already, eagerness to be trained for these high-paying careers has struck Gary and the rest of Northwest Indiana.

"I get daily phone calls," said state Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary. "The interest level is high."

But state officials still want to make sure that black and Hispanic candidates get the message: You can train for a career in highway construction, even if you are a high-school dropout.

Rogers accompanied Gary and state officials to a meeting with the Post-Tribune editorial board.

The leaders, including Andrew J. Penca, deputy commissioner of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, said the state is still negotiating with training providers but will make announcements next week.

Ivy Tech State College is expected to be one of the pre-apprenticeship providers, although state officials would not confirm who responded to requests for proposals.

Gary School Board member Darren Washington said Gary's is the only large school system in the state not to have a major building-trades program. Training for minorities is made harder, he said, when children drop out of school believing it won't affect their future.

Washington said children want to see a benefit if they are to stay in school and get their high-school diploma.

"Kids today want to see something tangible for their (school) work," Washington said. "We have to entice them to stay in school."

While the pre-apprenticeship program does not require a diploma or GED, officials said the actual four-year apprentice work requires certain certifications along the way. Both programs pay trainees.

Workers for the pre-apprenticeship may receive a stipend for enrolled students, who will not pay for the course, according to Joseph DiLaura, spokesman for Workforce Development.

Daniels and Ron Stiver, Workforce Development commissioner, will hold a news conference at 3:15 p.m. Thursday at Gary's WorkOne center to announce the details of the program.

Rogers made clear one of her goals in the past year was to boost minority participation in the booming construction trade, strengthened further by BP PLC's recently announced plan to invest $3 billion in its Whiting refinery.

At that announcement on Sept. 20, Daniels also said he would try to make sure minorities would be some of the 2,500 contract workers hired to build the BP expansion.

The state will provide $12 million for Major Moves training from 2006 through 2012. State officials said the minority training centers will be located in Gary, South Bend, Evansville, Indianapolis and Fort Wayne.

Rogers defended her vote for the Major Moves legislation, which made her one of only two Democrats in the entire Indiana General Assembly to vote for Daniels' proposal, which included the Indiana Toll Road lease to an Australian-Spanish banking consortium.

Rogers said Friday she was always interested in the jobs portion of Major Moves. And for the first time, Rogers admitted she was disturbed by some of the criticisms of Major Moves that seemed to focus on the nationalities of the bidders.

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