5th May 2022

Careers in classics: How to start your path in the heritage sector

They say that by choosing a job we love, we’ll never work a day in our lives. For automotive enthusiasts, a career maintaining and restoring classic vehicles can sound like a dream come true.

Many owners rely on a network of specialists to keep their pride and joy in fine fettle, so we’re lucky to have a wide selection here in the UK – but for an outsider, finding a way in can seem daunting. The first step is simple; understand the type of role best suited to you.

Whether you can see yourself repairing bodywork as a coachbuilder, creating upholstery as a trimmer, or looking after the engine, chassis and electrics as an engineer, there are challenging and exciting career opportunities out there for you. One organisation in particular is working hard to nurture the future talent in our sector.

Heritage Skills Academy (HSA) was founded in 2015 by John and Janice Pitchforth, to raise awareness of career opportunities for younger generations in the classic sector. As well as opening doors to new talent, the husband-and-wife team have helped to restore the faith of employers in the process.

“For the past 20 years, few new engineers have entered the classic sector,” says John. “Modern automotive qualifications have often lacked the old school skills required – for example, plug in diagnostics knowledge has little relevance when looking after historic vehicles.”

After recognising the requirement for more ‘old-school trained’ engineers and craftspeople within the sector, John and Janice helped to develop the Heritage Engineering Technician Apprenticeship Standard.

There are no age limits to become an apprentice - HSA currently trains 150 apprentices from across the UK, ranging in age from 16 to 52, from its academies based at Bicester Heritage and Brooklands Museum.

Apprentices must be employed before they can join the Government-sponsored apprenticeship programme, so HSA works to match applicants and employers by carrying out initial assessments, setting up interviews and securing jobs with the UK’s leading classic specialists. Once a role has been secured, applicants can begin their training with HSA.

“The most important thing we look for is genuine passion and interest,” says John. “We want people who can prove they love classic vehicles and are mechanically minded, or artistically talented for Coachbuilding and Trim. It does not matter whether you own a classic vehicle or not; perhaps you are into go karting or have worked on a family member’s car, the most important thing is that you can demonstrate your hunger and drive.”

“The opportunities out there are brilliant if you can stand out. Heritage Skills Academy is partnered with businesses across the restoration industry, and we aim to link our apprentices with opportunities at these organisations. Our best applicants can sometimes be offered a position even if the specialist isn’t necessarily looking to hire. I love to hear our employers say, ‘I wasn’t looking for someone, but I can’t let this person go!’”

A recent Footman James-commissioned survey found that 25% of the general public expressed an interest in owning a classic vehicle in the future. The Historic & Classic Vehicles Alliance (HCVA), a partner of Footman James, also recently reported a 48% rise in the number of historic vehicles on our roads – a sign of the growing need for fresh talent to keep our classics going. With organisations like HSA helping to futureproof the sector, there looks to be light at the end of the tunnel.

Would you ever consider a career in classics? Let us know in the comments what your dream job would be!