Improve, the sector skills council for food and drink, has started consultation with employers on plans for a new framework for apprenticeship programmes.

"This will be a crucial reform," said Jack Matthews, Improve’s chief executive, who added that completed apprenticeships in food and drink manufacturing subjects at Level 2 have more than doubled in the last two years from 332 to 668.

But the numbers remain disappointingly small compared to other industries, where people complete apprenticeships in their thousands every year.

At present, apprenticeships are available only in bakery, general food and drink manufacturing, and meat and poultry processing. The new proposals are to introduce one flexible framework, which can be adapted to meet the specific needs of any of the 10 sub-sectors within food and drink manufacturing, from dairy to brewing.

Development work on the new apprenticeship framework will continue until September. .