IN THE LAST TWO DECADES, many profound economic, social and technical changes in American life have drastically altered both the nature and composition of the labor force. A worldwide explosion of technology has dislocated many workers, upgrading some and making the skills of others obsolete. The American worker now changes jobs six times in an average working life. Large numbers of previously unemployed, underemployed, or marginally employed people have flocked into the job market. As part of this movement, women have gone to work in unprecedented numbers.

In what Ralph E. Smith aptly called a "subtle revolution" in his book by the same name (The Subtle Revolution, Urban Institute, 1979), women are now the fastest- growing segment of the labor market, today making up 43 percent of all workers. While this "revolution" has been encouraged and supported by both the women's movement and by national policies mandating equal employment opportunity, the major impetus for the record numbers of women either working or seeking work has come from sheer economic necessity. Most women have to work to support themselves and their children or to supplement family income: 19.3 million women are now solely responsible for supporting their families.

So, in spite of the difficulties of balancing job and family responsibilities, and in the face of major barriers --employment discrimination, occupational segregation (half of all working women are found in only 17 occupations) and grossly unequal pay (59 cents to every dollar earned by men)--women are seeking work in ever-increasing numbers. It is not surprising that a growing number of books written about career choice, job hunting and other work-related issues, are aimed at a female audience. Four of the six books reviewed here are written for women. The other two, while not specifically written for women, should be useful to both men and women.

When Can You Start? The Complete Job- Search Guide for Women of All Ages, produced by the staff of Catalyst (Macmillan, $9.95), is a general guide for women entering or re-entering the job market. Catalyst has a long history of providing sound advice, solid information and practical support to working women at all stages of their careers. The book, which is thorough, detailed and measures up to Catalyst's usual high standards, covers all the standard job hunting techniques. Chapter four is probably the most helpful because it outlines a wide range of ways to locate job openings, and strongly emphasizes making personal contacts (still the best way to land a good position according to most job hunters). The extensive use of case histories makes the book lively and readable.

JoAnne Alter's A Part-time Career for a Full-Time You, (Houghton Mifflin, $15.95; paperback, $8.95) is a guide primarily for women since they are still the majority of part-time job holders. Of the 33 million Americans who work part-time, only 19 percent are adult males, and these men are usually working another job on a full-time basis. Up-to-date statistics, anecdotes and case histories lend credibility and present a practical, realistic picture of the part-time job market as well as where the jobs can be most easily found. The word "career" in the title is somewhat misleading, since most part-time jobs tend to be lower-paid, nonprofessional, and with few or no benefits. The author includes information on job sharing and freelance work as options that are more likely to be professional in nature.

Alter makes an interesting observation on the attitudes of both males and females toward a wife who holds a part-time job. Both still accord such work little respect. The proportion of family income contributed by the wife has a direct impact on the fair division of household labor, with the wife normally bearing most or all of the responsibility for home and children in addition to the job.

This is a well written book with attractive illustrations and clearly presented tables and graphs. It should be valuable to the employment counselor, the researcher and the job-hunting public.

Mary Zimmeth's The Women's Guide to Re-entry Employment (Scribner's, $8.95) is a paperback workbook for clients and counselors of displaced homemaker programs, although the author stretches the definition of a displaced homemaker (a woman who has been out of the labor force for a significant number of years, has little or no paid work experience, and who is forced by family circumstances to become the sole wage earner for the family) to include women "who decide for any reason to discontinue full-time housework to take outside employment." The book was actually written in 1979 and is outdated in its information about the availability of employment training programs for women, especially in the area of nontraditional work. Many of these programs were funded by government monies and have been severely cut back or eliminated entirely in the past 18 months. The advice given in the book, although generally sound, is nothing new and some chapters are not detailed enough. Furthermore the book is simplistically written and generally geared toward low-level jobs.

A slightly different kind of book, also aimed at re- entry women, is Connecting: A Handbook for Housewives Returning to Paid Work by Sally Ashley (Avon, $5.95). It is a personal account of how and why one woman went back to work, and how the experience led her eventually to start her own business helping other women succeed in gaining better re-entry jobs. The book is aimed at middle-aged, middle-class women --"housewives," in the author's own terms--and is sensitive to the problems these women face in going back to work after many years. Ashley probes the reasons for the insecurity and lack of self-confidence in most of these women and for the dependent role that many of them assume in their first jobs.

The second part of the book is devoted to the skills women need for successful job hunting. Procedures are outlined using business terms and goals which should provide a useful vocabulary for inexperienced job seekers. The book seems disjointed because there is lttle connection between the first and second sections. Perhaps both would benefit from being published separately.

Making a Living in the Fine Arts (MacMillan, $9.95) by Curtis W. Casewit does not focus on women but is written for all aspiring artists, male and female, although he does mentions that female artists are finally doing well critically and financially. Casewit is a freelance writer/photographer and teacher of creative writing who has published similar titles in other areas of the arts. To augment his first-hand knowledge, he has interviewed professional artists, art critics, gallery owners and museum experts.

The book is meant to be encouraging to new artists. Believing that a cultural renaissance is underway, the author claims that more money is available to visual artists than ever before, from both public and private grants and the increasing number of individuals purchasing art as an investment and for personal enjoyment. He warns, however, that the arts are financially rewarding only to the artist who is hardworking, singleminded in purpose and wise to the ways of business. Some of the subjects Casewit addresses are proper education, the right way to chose a dealer or agent, the proper composition of an artist's portfolio and resume, negotiation of contracts dealing with taxes and royalties, and proper interview techniques. Scattered throughout the book are fascinating interviews with successful artists.

Worklife Transitions: The Adult Learning Connection, by Paul E. Barton and the National Institute for Work and Learning (McGraw-Hill, $14.5) is totally different from the books above. It is not a "how-to" book, but a serious study of the part adult learning plays in employment. Barton worked with his co-authors so that his findings would realistically reflect the needs of the business, labor and educational communities as well as those of workers. The book's main theme is the importance of relevant training and retraining to people entering the work force for the first time, people attempting to upgrade current jobs, workers who must find new employment when displaced by economic changes, and those who are attempting to change careers for more personal satisfaction. In addition, the book addresses the benefits beyond specific job-related training that organized learning and development of the mind can bring to adults.

Barton believes that it is critical for educational institutions, labor and industry to collaborate in planning how to make the transition from school to work smooth and efficient, particularly since business has a legitimate stake in the educational system and its products.

Access to relevant education depends largely on getting the appropriate information and advice on the availablility, cost, entrance requirements, and content of different training and educational programs. The need for access to appropriate education for women is especially important as they seek jobs in ever larger numbers. And access for women to education and training in the skills women tradionally lack--math, science, technology in particular--will do much in the long run to even up the employment odds for women. This book can help women (and those who counsel and employ them) think carefully about the vital relationships between productive work, life and learning.

With the exception of Barton and Casewit, the books aimed at women are basically primers for women seeking entry-level jobs. There is little recognition that the millions of women already working are restricted to mostly low-paying, deadend jobs in a limited number of "women's" occupations. What is now needed is a more sophisticated understanding of the realities facing working women. That can help women and their employers make maximum use of the talents and skills that women bring to the job market.