THE KNEE-JERK REACTION to the fact that Greater Washington has a "Summer Jobs for Needy Youth" program sponsored by businessmen is often skepticism. And there's a reason for it: In some parts of the country such campaigns have been little more than empty Chamber of Commerce public-relations stunts, with more rhetoric than delivery. That, in fact, was the prevailing sentiment here 13 years ago, when the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade conducted its first summer jobs program here. At best, said the critics, it would be just a money-saving way for some businesses to fill some vacation openings in their regular schedules.

Not so. The program in this region over the years has led the field nationally - consistently breaking its own records for number of jobs offered, number of employers hiring and number of volunteer hours contributed to the effort. This year, thanks to more than 6,000 volunteer hours put in by businesses under the joint sponsorship of the board of trade and the National Alliance of Businessmen, the program has been clicking. As of yesterday, the campaign had identified more than 37,000 jobs with more than 5,300 participating employers.

The organizers still aren't satisfied, however, for most of these identified jobs are already spoken for. To be sure, this happens to be a measure of the program's great benefit to this community - for it means that the number of young people rehired from last year, including the school year, is setting records, too. In short, employers are pleased with the people they've been getting.

So far, so good. But the campaign needs new job offers - from employers not previously associated with the program. So far this year, more than 10,000 newhired have been identified. Under the general chairmanship of Redskin Coach George Allen, the campaign solicitors are hoping for a last-minute surge of new employer-participants before the drive ends tonight.

The Summer Jobs for Needy Youth is a mutually profitable partnership that benefits the entire community, not just during the summer months, but in the years to come as well. In again wishing the campaign continued great success, we urge every employer to take a moment today to consider either joining in or stepping up participation. The talent and energy is out there to be tapped.