One major contribution of Ronald Reagan's administration, for which he hasn't been given proper credit, is that Americans are being forced to reconsider their ideas about the role of government.

Eventually, out of the bruising debate that has developed over where to spend our tax money and where to cut back will develop a broad consensus on the direction of government in the 1980s. Some of Reagan's plans will fall victim to political reality, as the American people decide they do want government to play certain roles--such as providing a sound Social Security program.

But absent an economic crisis of depression proportions, it seems clear the overwhelming majority of Americans want less government involvement in the economic sector and that they will achieve that goal over time.

With fewer instances of government economic pump-priming likely over the next decade, the prospect is that overall economic growth will be very gradual. Painful choices about spending priorities will be a dominant fact of life in this environment of limited expansion of resources.

For these reasons, business and community leaders here and in other cities have started to search for new ways to achieve some of the overall social and economic goals that have depended so much on federal government largesse.

One such venture is a growing Washington-based corporation about which few persons have heard outside the world of youth employment specialists.

In the next two weeks, this enterprise will begin an ambitious training center in Prince George's County designed to provide job-readiness and placement services for high school dropouts, in-school youths, juvenile offenders and disadvantaged adults. It is one of the most substantial programs developed by area business leaders, school administrators and public officials, and the Prince George's program will be watched closely in other jurisdictions.

At the same time, the Prince George's program is not being set up by some persons with just high hopes and an experiment they want to try.

Managing the county program is a company called 70001 Ltd., The Youth Employment Co., a national firm based in Southwest Washington since last summer. 70001 Ltd. was founded in 1969 in Wilmington, Del., with a grant from the Thom McAn Co., a shoe retailer that wanted to guide youths into retailing and distribution employment. The Distributive Education Clubs of America and the state also participated.

From a single pilot project, 70001 Ltd. has grown into an organization with youth employment programs in 55 communities and 21 states--the third largest employment and training program in the country. During the past five years, 70001 Ltd. has placed more than 11,000 participants in jobs; they have earned $12.1 million and paid an estimated $2.4 million in federal and local taxes.

The non-profit corporation's unusual name comes from the original pilot project in Delaware: The state accounting system code for funds from Thom McAn Co. was 70-00-1. The project was separated and 70001 became a private firm in 1976, with Labor Department funds used to replicate the model in other states. One 70001 program, for dropouts, has been operated in Prince George's County since 1977.

A much broader program begins March 1 at the new 70001 Work and Learning Center in a recently completed Capitol Heights office building. During the next eight months, this center will focus on 500 disadvantaged county residents in four separate programs. Services will include job-seeking skills, motivational training, job placement assistance, counseling, career awareness activities and educational instruction.

Involved in this type of program for the first time is the Private Industry Council in Prince George's, one of a network of such organizations set up under the federal Youth Employment Act of 1977. These groups--called PICs--are supposed to boost private sector participation in the design and operation of job-training programs for disadvantaged citizens.

Joe Puhalla, executive director of the Prince George's PIC, described the new center as "unique in its consolidation of services, which will prevent duplication and overlap and ensure that more services are provided to more people."

Laurel Chamber of Commerce President Joe Edwards, who is chairman of the county PIC, said he hopes more such programs will be generated in Prince George's: "I know we are moving in the right direction." The PIC signed an eight-month contract totaling $320,961 with 70001 Ltd., which is responsible for setting up and administering the program. The PIC funds came from the government's much-maligned Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA).

The 70001 Ltd. center will have a staff of 14 persons, who will work with the county public schools and area businesses. Four specific programs will be initiated:

* Pre-employment training, educational instruction and motivational activities for about 100 out-of-school youths, ages 16-21, with a goal of placing 65 in private sector jobs;

* Employability skills development and job-readiness for about 160 disadvantaged youths now in public schools, with the school system recruiting and processing participants for four-week evening programs;

* Pre-employment training and job placement for 50 juvenile offenders aged 16-18, in cooperation with juvenile justice authorities, with a goal of placing 33 in private sector jobs;

* Self-directed job placement assistance for 150 disadvantaged adults, with four-week programs in groups of 20.

Roger Semerad, 70001 Ltd.'s board chairman, says the new Prince George's center is a model particularly appropriate for budgetary realities of the 1980s. "In an era in which funds for employment training programs are scarce, a consolidation of services under one roof makes a great deal of sense. The 70001 Work and Learning Center will result in economies of scale that programs operating separately simply cannot achieve. Because it makes effective use of business, educational and government resources, the center is a model program we hope other communities will examine for themselves."

On the educational side, for example, the county's public schools are planning to create two other programs in the next few weeks. All graduates of the center will be able to enroll in special 12-week pre-vocational programs in four high-priority occupations. Special "resource teams" of business people, high school graduates and dropouts will travel to public schools and provide career awareness guidance.

Existing 70001 programs for Prince George's out-of-school youths and juvenile offenders, now in separate operation, will be moved to the Capitol Heights facility.

Among corporations that have aided 70001 are Allied Stores Corp. and its Garfinckel, Brooks Brothers subsidiaries; the American Retail Federation; Gino's; Hecht Co. parent May Department Stores; Woodward & Lothrop; WTOP Radio parent company, the Outlet Co.; the Western Electric manufacturing arm of the Bell System, and the McGraw-Hill publishing firm.