Joseph T. Puhalla likes being the behind-the-scenes man. He cares about "building up the system" but doesn't like taking the podium at news conferences, he said.

Puhalla, 57, is president of Prince George's County's Workforce Services Corp., the two-year-old quasi-private group that coordinates many of the county's business-education partnerships. The Pittsburgh native moved to the county in 1976 to take a job as a community organizer trying to improve the inner-Beltway communities. What he does now is an extension of what he did in those early days, trying to get business, government and education officials to work together.

Only now, he is more a part of the business establishment, acting as a liaison among these various groups, working to set up work-force training programs, either in schools or through in-house internships sponsored by businesses. Workforce Services' budget includes $7 million in federal funding for various Department of Labor programs. The agency also gets about 10 percent of its funding from businesses.

Since becoming president in 1981 of Workforce Services' predecessor, the Private Industry Council, Puhalla has coordinated programs such as the Career Connections educational work-force training program and the Maryland's Tomorrow dropout-prevention program. Recently, he was appointed co-chairman of School Superintendent Iris T. Metts's business advisory committee.

Eventually, Puhalla said, he hopes to establish the Workforce Services agency as a "one-stop" career center, providing social services, job training and employer services all from the Landover office.

Workforce Services' latest initiative--organizing business and educational leadership around "industry sectors"--is Puhalla's vision for helping the county improve its prospects.

Over the next two to five years, Workforce Services and the more recently established Workforce Development Partnership, a coalition of businesses, will organize educational institutions and county businesses in five industry sectors--technology, retail, business/finance, distribution/transportation and manufacturing--to address issues in recruitment, hiring, training and retention of the county's workers.

"Unless every one of those systems is pulling its weight, the county's economic development is not going to go where it needs to go," Puhalla said.

CAPTION: Joseph T. Puhalla coordinates businesses and schools.