Job-market researcher Richard Lathrop has an idea he thinks could substantially cut the nation's unemployment rate.

Too many young people have high school and college, he believes, with only the barest idea of how to go about landing a job. It may take them three months or more to negotiate what he calls the job-market "jungle."

Most eventually get hired, but only after "painfully" learning the ropes by trial and error.

He cites a recent newspaper story about a high-school dropout who complained about not being able to get a job, though he showed up to apply in a torn T-shirt. "I venture with a few hours of guidance," said Lathrop, "that guy could find a job in a month."

Meanwhile, these young job-seekers are carried on the nation's unemployment rolls.

At the same time, contends Lathrop, employers have hundreds of thousands of unfilled positions, for which many are qualified. The problem is matching up the applicant with the opening.

Economists call this situation -- "where jobs are immediately available but going unfilled" -- frictional unemployment. The best educated guess, says Lathrop, is that "more than 40 percent of all who are looking for jobs are counted as frictionally unemployed."

If applicants had better job-hunting skills, Lathrop argues, they could find work faster, thereby cutting the frictional unemployment rate. If the average time to find a job is reduced just four days, he says, "the annual count of people without jobs will drop 1 million."

His idea?

Provide -- if not require -- career-choice and job-hunting classes in high school. "There is no single course," he says, "that would increase [the nation's industrial] productivity more." Access to expert advice in employment offices should also be made available.

"Government research shows that when those applicants who need it are given strong guidance, their rate of replacement . . . doubles."

Lathrop argues this theory in a booklet, "The job Market" (National Center for Job-Market Studies, 66 pages, $4.85).

He has, at 60, all but "exhausted myself" trying -- so far unsuccessfully, he says -- to interest Congress and the White House in his proposal.

Meanwhile, he says, "the national job market -- if it can be said to exist at all -- is a chaotic mess."

Our national approach seems to assume, he says, that applicants "are born with a job-market gene -- a gene that tells them by instinct how to cope with the searing problems almost all job seekers face."