With the public beginning to cite unemployment as a more serious national concern than inflation - as measured in some recent opinion samplings - the Reagan administration should not turn its back on appropriate job training programs. Fortunately, there is some evidence that the administration is open to fresh thinking on the unemployment front.
According to recent reports, the administration has decided to provide some $ 2.4 billion for job training programs in fiscal 1983. That would represent an increase from the $1.6 billion that the Office of Management and Budget had wanted to allot. It would also represent a partial victory for Labor Secretary Donovan, who directly appealed to the President for a restoration of $3.4 billion for training and public service programs - the amount originally sought by the Labor Department. Even the compromise $2.4 billion, however, would still be dwarfed by the close to $8 billion spent on federal job training and manpower programs in fiscal 1981 or the $4.5 billion budgeted for fiscal 1982.
Whatever budget amount is finally settled upon for fiscal 1983, two things need to be said about job training efforts in general:
* First, whatever programs are funded, they should be geared to long-range economic needs, such as electronics technology, as opposed to, say, shoe manufacturing. Past administrations and Congresses have learned to their sorrow that programs linked just to a particular recessionary climate tend to come ''on-line'' well after the recession has bottomed out, or after the recession has ended.
* Second, costly showcase programs can no longer be afforded in a period of budgetary austerity. The Labor Department ought to consider setting up a new, smaller training program in which the private sector and organized labor would offer instruction aimed at targeted groups. The administration is now contemplating just such a plan. The core issue, however, is whether the private sector program is big enough in scope, considering the nation's substantial unemployment.
In designing a modest program, the administration in effect would be dropping most of the current programs under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), while sharply curtailing the Job Corps. Such a sharp reduction in CETA programs is likely to produce a Pyrrhic budget victory, with unskilled persons, mainly young and from minority groups, merely added to costly federal welfare or unemployment rosters.
These are the matters that the administration and Congress must grapple with in reaching a fair consensus. Under the various jobs programs in place several years ago some 3 million persons were aided annually. The proposed new administration program would reportedly reach only a tenth or so of that amount. With unemployment now at 8.4 percent - and much higher for minority youths - there is a real question that administration thinking may not yet go far enough regarding job training.