Food and drink companies are being called on by Improve, the food and drink skills council, to address the needs of older workers and also to promote manufacturing to schoolchildren.

Improve has commissioned research to find out what leading employers are doing to develop older employees' skills. Its findings will be used to help companies comply with EU age discrimination laws that take effect in October.

Jack Matthews, chief executive, said: "Food and drink manufacturing, like practically every other sector, is characterised by an ageing workforce. Older workers are generally highly experienced, but in many cases could make an even more valuable contribution to productivity if they had the chance to learn new skills."

Improve is also asking employers to comment on government plans to get manufacturing into the school curriculum by 2009.

It is developing a manufacturing diploma for teenagers as an alternative to traditional qualifications. Employers' comments will be used to design the qualification so that it delivers relevant skills.

Matthews said: "It will lay an important foundation for a range of initiatives to help close skills gaps and reduce skills shortages."