In the current economic climate, Apprenticeship Week, which finished yesterday, may not have been high on people's list of priorities. But it was an appropriate time to ask questions about what apprenticeships have to offer the food and drink industry to help it through turbulent times.

The Government has been asked where the thousands of apprenticeship places it is promising will come from, given that job losses are now a grim economic reality. But the food and drink industry is expected to escape the worst of this as the provision of food - a basic necessity - will always create jobs. What is likely to happen is that jobs in the sector will become higher-skilled.

Recruiting and training higher-skilled workers can be costly. But apprenticeship funding in effect subsidises training and employment - a great tonic in tough times. Training for apprentices aged up to 18 is fully funded, with varying subsidies for training older workers.

The Government has also pledged to subsidise apprentice wages for companies with less than 50 employees, while larger companies already running apprenticeship schemes can access funds from a £10m pot to train more apprentices than they need for their own business.

Improve has been active in re-designing apprenticeships to better meet the needs of food and drink companies. Employers can now choose from more than 500 food and drink qualification units to construct a programme that ensures apprentices develop skills that benefit the business. There are specialist pathways in bakery, meat and poultry processing, supply chain, production control, retail among others.

More and more businesses are waking up to the value of apprenticeships. A Learning and Skills Council survey last year found that more than three quarters of employers see links between apprenticeships and improved productivity.

If your business is searching for a light at the end of the tunnel, apprenticeships could be the answer. As an affordable means of delivering the skills that really matter to a business, they can help develop workers with the talent and ability to drive real value in difficult times.

Jack Matthews is chief executive of food and drink sector skills council Improve.