The number of youngsters taking up ICT apprenticeships has fallen by nearly 20 per cent over the last five years, according to the UK's Education and Skills Funding Agency.
Some 15,010 people started ICT apprenticeships in Blighty in 2016/17, down from 16,020 the previous year and a fall of 3,510 since 2011/12, the government body found.
The National Audit Office (NAO) recently revealed that the overall number of folk taking up STEM apprentices has increased from 95,000 in 2012/13 to 112,000 in 2016/17. However, the lion's share is made up of engineering (74,860) followed by construction, planning and the built environment (21,210).
Parliament's Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier criticised the government for its "muddled thinking" in not doing more to boost the sector.
ICT remains less popular with youngsters, despite repeated government lip service about improving the tech skills gap. In the autumn budget government said it wanted to treble the number of computer science teachers to 12,000 and will throw £84m at upskilling 8,000.
A new system of apprenticeships is funded by the apprenticeship levy, which came into effect in April 2017. The NAO warned it was unclear how employers would react to this change.
"Obliging large employers to finance the apprenticeships system is intended to encourage greater use of apprentices," it said. "However, the upper funding limit of £27,000 may not cover the cost of all STEM apprenticeships. At present it is unclear how employers are likely to react to the levy arrangements in the longer term."
Derek Kelly, chief exec of SJD Accountancy, said: "The number of people starting ICT apprenticeships was recovering from its 2013/14 trough but the impact of the new apprenticeship levy and obligations on smaller employers to meet some of the training costs has clearly discouraged the use of apprentices.
"The question is whether the initial drop-off in the number of ICT apprentices will bounce back or whether we will see further falls as employers invest in upskilling existing staff instead."
John Pritchard, head of apprenticeships at the British Computer Society, said: "We need to reverse the downward trend, and encourage all players; government, employers large and small, teachers, careers advisors, parents and, of course, young people themselves of the huge value that an apprenticeship can bring in kick-starting their careers.
"It's clear that our future economy will be one that's driven by digital skills and knowledge, which is why these digital apprenticeships are so important.
"There is a clear message in the digital space that we now have a progression route from entry to masters level which will enable career paths with true technical competence and professional recognition." ®