A NEW survey reveals the region could be on the brink of a skills shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Business NSW survey shows the number of apprentices starting in 2020 will be 30 per cent lower than last year, due to economic hardships brought about the pandemic.
The drop in apprenticeship opportunities means more than 50,000 workers will miss out on the chance to learn a trade, upskill or find a job.
The worrying numbers have led one of Tamworth's leading apprenticeship agencies HVTC to call for more assistance from the state and federal governments to avoid an "apprenticeship emergency".
"The National Apprentice Employment Network, Business NSW and a number of other bodies have released studies showing just how bad the situation is," HVTC CEO Sharon Smith said.
"It's got us all concerned from a youth unemployment perspective, from a skill shortage perspective and from an overall economic perspective.
"I think what this would look like for 2020 school leavers is that they are at risk of being a part of a cohort that don't go into employment at all."
Ms Smith said the region's pre-existing skills shortage could become markedly worse without intervention from the government.
"Our association and everybody else's as well have been advocating the government provide some kind of wage support," she said.
"Our association has asked for $500 a week from the government to help businesses keep apprentices employed.
"All the surveying we have done shows 60 per cent of our employers are eligible for JobKeeper and when that concludes, 18 per cent of the employers indicated they weren't sure they could continue with their current cohort of apprentices, let alone a new cohort next year.
"It's not just about ensuring school leavers have an opportunity for next year, but retaining the ones already working."
The concerns come after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday a "further phase" of income support would be available after the JobKeeper cut off in September.
Business NSW regional Joe Townsend echoed Ms Smith's calls for additional assistance saying it was crucial the government support the training sector.
"Without significant intervention, the number of apprentices in training in 2021 will fall to levels not seen since 1998 and are unlikely to recover until 2025, even if the economy is on the path to recovery.
"Given the scale of the impact, Government must act now to make any inroads into turning the trend around, including by providing employers with a significant subsidy for new starter apprentice wages.
"The highly-effective Supporting Apprentices and Traineessubsidy needs to continue past its 1 October expiry date and be phased out over the next year."