The federal government has scrapped its old patchwork system for assuring that minority-group members get construction jobs and has replaced it with one that is nationwide -- covering large parts of the country previously exluded -- and is much more systematic in setting hiring goals.

But it seems that no one -- neither the contractors who are supposed to do the hiring, nor the minority groups pushing for the jobs -- is very happy with the guidelines that take effect Nov. 3.

Contractors say the guidelines will force them to pay journeyman's wages to entry-level workers in order to meet minority hiring goals. Minority groups say the new rules tend to reduce existing minority hiring goals in urban areas. The new rules supplant that group of city-by-city affirmative action plans that began with the 1969 Philadelphi Plan, the first federal effort to use minority hiring goals and timetables to end job discrimination in construction and other industries.

The Office of Federal Compliance, which has jurisdiction over federal affirmative action matters, said in its Oct. 3 Federal Register announcement that the Philadelphia Plan-type programs had three basic problems. They covered only 31, mostly big-city communities; they often also were limited to specific construction projects; and their hiring goals frequently were the uncertain products of tripartite haggling involving unions, contractors, and the federal government.

Essentially, the new guidelines would:

Set minority hiring goals based on the racial composition of the workforce of a Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (urban population), or of an Economic Area (rural population), whichever applies in a given situation. (Previous goal-setting techniques yielded miniority counts that were often off target when compared to an area's minority population.)

Abandon the craft-by-craft minority hiring goals contained in the Philadelphia Plan generation of programs, and replace them with a single goal applicable to each individual craft. For example, an SMSA or EA with a 20 percent minority labor force would have a minority hiring goal of 20 percent for each craft and trade employed by the affected contractor.

Cover both private and federal projects of a contractor who is doing at least $10,000 worth of federal business. (The old plans applied only to a contractor's federal jobs and to federally assisted or totally funded projects valued at $500,000 or more.)

Apply nationwide, rather than to targeted areas, as was the case previously.

"A lot of contractors who have been working in areas where there weren't any goals are going to be stunned when they see these new guidelines," said Sue Meisinger, staff counsel for the Washington-based Associated Builders and Contractors. At least 50 percent of ABC's 16,000 member firms are involved in federally or publicly assisted work, Meisinger said.

She said many of the firms already are complaining about the amount of paperwork that will be involved in meeting the 16 affirmative action steps mandated by the new guidelines. But, more than that, the contractors are saying that government's requirement to pay the prevailing wage on government jobs will mean bringing in entry-level people at jorneyman's pay in order to meet the hiring goals. The government says this is not so.

On the other hand, under the old guildelines, Philadelphia had minority hiring goals ranging from 19 percent to 26 percent. The figures for the District of Columbia ranged from 25 percent to 40 percent under the old guidelines. The new goals for the District are set at 28 percent.

Contract compliance officials have acknowledged that some civil rights groups and their government supporters have "expressed concern for what they see to be a lessening of employment opportunities for minorities in the construction industry" in some cities.But the officials said that "goals" are not to be constued as "quotas" -- firmly set, exclusionary numbers.