The calendar tells us it's 1991, but the year 2000 is already here. Or so the area's demographics and work force seem to be telling us.

To be more precise, the profile of the future U.S. work force, which is projected to have a greater share of women and minorities by the year 2000, exists already in metropolitan Washington. That's certainly a reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from reading "Managing Greater Washington's Changing Work Force: Keys to Productivity and Profit," a report just released by the Greater Washington Research Center. {Details, page 14.}

Commissioned by the research center as part of a program to increase employers' awareness of changes in the area's work force and to help them recruit and use employees more effectively, the report may alter some long-held perceptions that have hampered productivity and profit in many instances. Time will tell.

If nothing else, the report's overriding conclusion should cause employers to sit up and take notice of critical changes in the work force. Simply put, the area's work force is becoming older, less white, more female and less skilled.

If that sounds familiar, there's good reason. It is virtually identical to a major finding in "Workforce 2000: Work and Workers for the 21st Century," a highly regarded study completed in 1987 for the Labor Department by the Hudson Institute. The nation's work force, we were told in "Workforce 2000," will "grow slowly, becoming older, more female, and more disadvantaged." Nonwhites will double their share of new entrants into the labor force to 29 percent, added the Hudson Institute.

Significantly, the labor force in metropolitan Washington has already developed in ways forecast for the nation as a whole by the turn of the century, concluded economic consultants Mary Lou Egan and Marc Bendick Jr., authors of the more recent study for the Research Center.

That has major implications for Washington area employers, policymakers and educators, just as Workforce 2000 raised several critical policy issues. It means that employers, for example, will have to adjust to profound changes in the labor force. The average job applicant in the future is less likely to be the typical native-born American white male.

"The 'Ozzie and Harriet' white male worker" makes up only 29 percent of the area's work force, Egan stressed in one of several such references she and Bendick made in explaining their findings about the dramatic changes affecting the area's labor force.

Interestingly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in an updated projection of how the work force is likely to look in the year 2000, reported in 1989 that white males would account for 31.6 percent of new entrants to the U.S. work force, meaning their share would drop, though they would continue to be the largest group.

"Once the labor force was typified by white, native-born, non-disabled males of prime working age, who worked full time and did not carry primary responsibility for family care," Egan and Bendick recalled in their report. "Such people now account for only 29 percent of employed persons in the Washington area."

"The message we're trying to send is that for every 'Ozzie and Harriet' in the work force, there are two people who look different," Bendick said during a briefing last week. "I don't think that message has gotten through yet."

Only a few Washington area employers seem to be getting the message. That became apparent long before there was talk of a recession locally, when many employers complained of having to cope with a labor shortage; of not being able to find qualified workers. Women and minorities, on the other hand, still complain that, even though qualified, they aren't seriously considered for certain positions.

It would be naive to believe that racism and sex discrimination don't play a part in hiring decisions, but Egan and Bendick don't believe either is as much a factor now as they might have been. It's more a matter of inertia and resistance to change, they contend. Most managers, they add, rose to their positions without experiencing much diversity in the workplace and haven't yet adapted to changes that are occurring.

Call it what you will, but it's obvious that the work force is changing faster than employers' attitudes. Most firms in the Washington area are reacting to labor-force changes "primarily by applying traditional recruiting techniques with greater intensity," according to Egan and Bendick.

One thing seems clear from reading their report: A few firms are working "smarter" to hire and retain good workers, but a majority has yet to learn the importance of managing labor-force change. Understandably that may not be a priority for employers at a time when a downturn in the economy is forcing them to lay off workers and retrench.

Once the economy begins to rebound, however, employers will have to come to grips with the issue of a changing work force. Egan and Bendick learned from several interviews that employers are less concerned about overall labor shortages than they are about job readiness, a lack of skills and a shortage of workers for selected occupations. According to some employers, "Workers are different today."

Having made that enlightening discovery, however, employers seem to be doing little to learn more about the labor force or to address differences in a way that will enable them to improve profitability and stimulate business and economic growth in general.

Now is the time, as the Hudson Institute suggested in Workforce 2000, for employers, policymakers and educators "to begin investing in education, training and other assistance" that will facilitate the entry of new workers into the changing labor force. "These investments will be needed," continued the authors of Workforce 2000, "not only to {ensure} that employers have a qualified work force in the years after 2000, but to finally deliver the equality of opportunity that has been America's great unfulfilled promise."

In the meantime, employers will have to learn to deal with the reality that there has been a quantum leap from "Ozzie and Harriet" to the Cosbys and "Designing Women."