WITH UNEMPLOYMENT near its post-World War II high--and minority joblessness at record levels--the Labor Department apparently plans to phase out most of what's left of the nation's employment and training system for the hard-to-employ.

The department's request to OMB for fiscal year 1983 calls for phasing out the remains of the CETA system through which states and localities provided jobs and training for youths and adults in labor market trouble. A few smaller programs such as the Job Corps and work projects for the elderly will be kept, but at much-reduced levels. To replace what was, only two years ago, a $10 billion system, the department plans to create a small business-oriented training program. Because the program would spend only $1 billion in its first year, and perhaps twice that in later years, some hard choices would have to be made about whom to serve and how best to serve them.

There are many good models that the new planners can choose. CETA, after all, was quite a successful program. It gave work experience and training to millions of low-income people and provided many useful services that are now, by many reports, sorely missed by communities around the country. Because it was designed as a few-strings-attached block grant, states and localities had considerable leeway to experiment. Local program administrators made plenty of mistakes, but they also left behind many examples of what does and doesn't work.

Wage subsidies didn't work well. Most of them went to pay for people who were already hired. On- the-job training with private employers did work well, but it has proved difficult to expand. The latest effort at expansion--the Carter administration's private- sector initiative--ended up costing more per job placement than traditional CETA training.

Success stories vary with the type of client. Young people who finish high school but with poor records have done well in a job counseling and remedial training program that the state of Delaware pioneered in its schools with the help of local employers. If the program were extended to all the youths who could benefit from it, it wouldn't be cheap--CETA now pays for the existing projects-- but it could be a bargain compared with the likely alternatives for many of these youths.

School dropouts have done well in programs that enticed them to return to special schools with the promise of a part-time job. For out-of-school youth and adults, long-term specialized training pays off better than short-term help, even though many fewer people can be served.

Low-income women have done well in all CETA programs, moving on to jobs that pay considerably more than their prior earnings. Particularly successful--and money-saving--were special projects for welfare mothers that combined job-finding assistance with work experience and training for those who needed it.

With few dollars to spend, the Labor Department will have to pick carefully among the many millions who need labor market help. It won't be much comfort for those of the unemployed who don't make the cut, but some careful attention to what has already been learned can at least make the remaining dollars go as far as possible.