EVERY NOW and again, it's heartening to find out that something works -- especially when it's a program that deals with a tough social problem. An independent report prepared for the Labor Department provides convincing evidence that a firm with the unlikely name of 70001 Ltd. is helping school dropouts find and hold jobs in the private sector.

Other youth programs have had considerable success in encouraging low-income youths to stay in school and become better prepared for subsequent employment. The 70001 program -- now operating at about 40 sites around the country -- deals almost exclusively with a much harder-to-serve group. Most of those enrolled are minority youths from poor families who have dropped out of school, many with less than an eighth-grade education.

Despite the barriers these youths face -- some have been out of school for several years without finding steady jobs -- the firm has found jobs for 60 percent of those who walk through its door. Almost all of the youths who complete a brief program of job preparation subsequently find jobs. Better still, researchers find that more than a year later, program participants are earning considerably more than comparable youths who weren't helped.

What makes 70001 work? No doubt the vigor and commitment of its staff help a lot. But some features of the program stand out. One is that the firm doesn't regard its clients as basket cases who can only be helped on a charity basis. Neither the youths nor the firms that employ them are given money to encourage them to participate. Most employers say they hired the kids because they saw them as needed and willing workers--30 percent of the youths were subsequently rated by their bosses as superior to their co-workers.

In preparing the youths for jobs, 70001 emphasizes developing good work habits, self-confidence and self-discipline. Although it's not required, continued education -- usually at night -- is strongly encouraged, as is participation in social and service clubs. The program also rewards successful participants in ways that can mean much more than money -- awards ceremonies and other forms of recognition -- all part of any important follow-up service that helps youths get by the stresses and strains frequently associated with a new job.

The major shortcoming of the program is that it does not in itself give youths the skills they need to move on from the low-paying jobs that most of them find. But getting a toehold in the job market and a proven record of job performance is an important first step toward the kind of job that provides a chance for advancement. Programs like 70001 now serve only a small fraction of youths in labor market trouble. If federal support and interest keep dwindling, they may serve still fewer in the future -- and that would be a serious mistake.