Employers fear the prospect of a future skills shortage, with the latest data showing a 36 per cent decline in the number of young people starting new apprenticeships across the Riverina.
The Business NSW report shows the Riverina is on track for 1000 fewer apprenticeships this year compared with 2019, which they attribute to the economic devastation caused by COVID-19.
Truck Art owner Terry Gibbs said it was hard enough to find "serious" apprentices at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic.
"There are motivated young people out there, they do exist, but they're not easy to get by any means," Mr Gibbs said.
"If they stopped paying the dole to young people then we'd have half a chance of getting people to work for us, simple as that."
However builder Xavier Higgins said there were plenty of motivated young people who were keen to get their start in life, for those who know where to look.
Mr Higgins currently employs two second-year apprentices, one he discovered through word-of-mouth and another he discovered though social connections.
"I've grown up in Wagga, so I know a lot of people. You've only got to put your ear to the ground for a short time and there's normally plenty of kids who are looking to get an apprenticeship," Mr Higgins said.
"They're tied up with the footy clubs and sports clubs, that kind of thing. If you ask around you'll find kids that are keen."
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Business NSW Riverina manager Andrew Cottrill said the government did a good job supporting existing apprentices through JobKeeper and the Supporting Apprentices and Trainees scheme.
However Mr Cottrill said the government had not done nearly enough to support new apprentices and young people entering the job market, warning it could result in serious skills shortages down the track.
"We absolutely need some government initiatives to incentivise businesses to take on an apprentice, particularly as work picks up," Mr Cottrill said.
"We don't want to end up with a skills shortage by not getting sufficient numbers of apprenticeships into their roles."
Mr Cottrill said so far this year the Riverina had put only 1530 new apprentices, and was not on track to catch up to last year's 2740 commencements.
Wagga's Year 12 VET students were not able to do their work placements this year, which are traditionally the first foot in the door for young people seeking apprenticeships.
"We're going to see a sudden cliff in apprentices coming through, and therefore qualified people coming out the other side, if we don't remediate this now," Mr Cottrill said.