Leaders of the House of Delegates dealt a potentially fatal blow to Gov. Harry Hughes' proposal to set up a new labor department today when they decided to begin looking for other, less dramatic ways to focus on job training efforts.

Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin said House committee chairmen expressed "major concerns" at a meeting this morning about the need for a Department of Labor, Employment and Training, as the proposed department would be called. Cardin said they agreed that instead of backing the department, one of the centerpieces of Hughes' 1983 legislative package, they would try to come up with an acceptable alternative.

One committee chairman said he came away from the meeting feeling that "the department is dead. The problem is finding the acceptable alternative."

Hughes and his aides, however, maintain that opposition to the plan is diminishing, not growing. "I think it's a little early to write this off," said one Hughes staff member, adding, "Obviously, there's a lot of work to do."

Cardin said the House leadership has not yet agreed on an alternative--such as setting up an office on labor in an existing department--and would take no official stance on the Hughes proposal until after it has come up for a public hearing.

"There is no question that we do have to coordinate state efforts in job training but there are many concerns about the governor's proposal," Cardin said. "The concerns are the cost--it'll be several hundred thousand to set it up--and the erosion of the cabinet form of government."

Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg said Senate leaders also have not taken a position, but he added that "unless the administration can show this is the best and most effective way to implement the job training programs, the department will not be supported. I want to know why can't we accomplish this in a cheaper manner in one of our already existing departments."

Hughes proposed a separate labor department during his reelection campaign last summer under pressure from the state's politically active labor unions. He said the department was needed because of the new federal Jobs Partnership Training Act, which will give Maryland about $45 million in new federal money if the state sets up an appropriate mechanism to receive it. He included $170,000 in the fiscal 1984 to help set it up.

The idea quickly ran into serious opposition from a strongly unified business community.

In addition, many legislators say the department could become a costly, added layer of bureaucracy that the governor was forced to push to appease labor, an interpretation that the governor and his staff vehemently oppose.

AFL-CIO head Tom Bradley said today that union officials will press for the department. "We think that one of the greatest messages of hope that this General Assembly could send to the unemployed is that they are going to set up a Department of Labor, Employment and Training," he said.