Training the next generation of workshop wizards with CKL and the Heritage Skills Academy – Classic Driver

As the classic car industry’s most experienced workers begin to retire, a serious problem is emerging as the skills required to restore these legendary classics start to disappear. We spoke to Mark Hews to find out what CKL is doing to train the next generation of restoration wizards.

In 2022, the traditional car industry is booming like never before. Models like the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé are breaking sales records, while events such as the Goodwood Revival and Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance are becoming more popular than ever. Yet, despite this surge of interest in the classic car world, a startling problem is emerging as experienced master mechanics and car restorers across the globe begin to stop working without passing down their knowledge to the next generation.  

Luckily, John and Janice Pitchforth recognised this issue, and established the History Skills School in 2016 to promote plus deliver traditional vehicle apprenticeships in mechanical engineering and coachbuilding. The catalyst from the industry was Tag Hews, CKL’s Managing Director, who saw that the particular industry was thriving but very few new young engineers were aware of the exciting career opportunities it offered. Fast forward to 2022 and the Heritage Skills Academy now has two world-class academies based at Bicester Traditions and Brooklands Museum, 170 apprentices plus 14 dedicated staff. When the apprentices aren’t studying at the 2 academies, they get the chance to learn from some associated with the best in the industry in CKL. We headed down to CKL’s headquarters within East Sussex to speak to Indicate and meet some of the Historical past Skills Academy apprentices who’ll be making sure your classic car keeps running for decades to come.  

Upon entering the immaculate facility, we’re met by Chris Keith-Lucas, the company’s ever-welcoming founder, who offers some insight as in order to why the particular classic vehicle industry will be experiencing such a skill drain. “Somebody starting out now has to make a bigger jump than previous generations have. My era put chains back on our bikes and mended punctures. I had carpentry tools from the age of six and chisels and saws and things I could cut my fingers off with, yet it was never considered the problem. Now kids have to make a much bigger leap because they don’t have the underlying exposure to equipment from an early age. We are introducing much older people to this equipment, yet thankfully some will take to them like a duck in order to water, which is great to see. ” 

Considering the calibre associated with automobiles that pass through CKL, you’d think the trainee apprentice wouldn’t be let within 100 metres of the facility, yet the reality is quite the opposite. Mark gives us the particular low-down: “We have five junior people out of a team of 18 at CKL who are apprentices. There’s a lot associated with people that are retiring – all the skills are usually found in people who are 60-plus years old. There’s a big skill gap between 25 and 45 in this industry. ” 

“Modern apprenticeships don’t have relevant coach building courses nowadays. I think there’s only one apprenticeship course teaching bodyshop abilities in the particular country, that is just insane. Heritage Abilities Academy’s coach building apprenticeship for classic cars will allow trainee’s to earn a large wage eventually. As the skilled workers start retiring, these skills are going to become more and more valuable, ” Mark continues.  

“The incentive is not just for these apprentice’s but there are huge benefits for the business as well. If I took on a mechanic from a Ferrari dealer with regard to example, these people wouldn’t be able to come in here and restore the Jaguar, so they wouldn’t be useful to me regarding six months, but I’d still be paying them a premium wage because they are a high level technician. On the particular other hand, I can get an beginner and they’ll start earning the company money after a year because their own wage is usually so much smaller. So, from the business perspective, we gain much more from taking on an apprentice plus teaching them our way. ” 

“At CKL we probably have one of the youngest workforces in the market. You look around, and there’s the lot of very skilled guys, yet a large proportion from the team are in or below their particular mid 30’s, so we are not worried about the future of our company, we’re interested in the future of this particular industry as a whole, ” Mark concludes.  

On that note, we head into CKL’s panel shop, to meet one associated with their youngest apprentices, Teo, who surprisingly wasn’t a petrolhead before working from CKL. “I wanted to learn a lot of different skills plus ways of applying those skills. The fact that there’s metalwork, upholstery, mechanics, and woodwork provides you a broad understanding of how these types of cars go together. I didn’t start with the passion intended for cars, but it has certainly grown more and more while working here, and I definitely plan to continue with this industry after the apprenticeship, ” says Teo.  

Clearly the variety of challenges in CKL’s workshop is a huge draw for these young apprentices, as Tag explains, “We’re not a good one-trick pony here, we are Jaguar specialists and we know a huge amount about Jaguars – all of us won’t move away through that, but it’s hard to reject a customer’s car, therefore we’re open to all sorts. There’s a broad range of things we all do here, but the particular point associated with the apprenticeship is in order to teach the core abilities. These skills can be used upon a Jaguar, Ferrari, or even Lamborghini. The same applies in the metal shop – whatever the skills are usually, they can transfer all of them between various cars. ”

Of course, behind every great apprentice is a restoration wizard, and within Teo’s case, that man is Steve, who’s worked at CKL for over 20 years. Coaching the following generation is definitely no small feat, because John tells us, “One of the most difficult things to teach can be knocking out and restoring original panels while trying to retain as much of the original metal since possible. It requires a lot of research online plus in our archives to know exactly what it was like in the day, not just how it may have been restored. ” John shows us images of the particular Le Mans-winning C-Type that will he helped to recover, and explains, “I need to know what it looked like and how they built them, so you can restore these cars with the same mindset. ” 

However , it’s not just youngsters who are jumping at the opportunity to experience an apprenticeship at CKL. Next up, we fulfill Jörn, the senior apprentice and ex-cultivation biologist who’s been gaining experience with CKL for the last 19 weeks. Jörn lets us know why he decided to drop biology in pursuit of traditional car repair, “I’ve had a passion for classic cars my whole life, and am wanted to do something different and hands-on. We owned a Volvo Amazon for 12 years, so I’ve always been tinkering on that, but the cars I actually work upon here are a lot more valuable plus exciting. They have in order to function properly as they’re going away racing, whereas my Volvo Amazon doesn’t. ”

“I intend to finish this apprenticeship and see where it goes, but I hope to continue this afterwards,   as it’s been good fun. The range has been really exciting — one week you’re working on gearboxes as well as the next you’re operating on engines. Electrics continues to be quite hard to get my head around, but when it works it’s actually rewarding. I’ve worked on the huge number of cars within the 19 months I have been right here, and I even did a little bit of work on the 1953 Le Mans-winning C-Type which was really incredible. You may see the development between the different D-Types we possess in here on the moment; every race, Jaguar were modifying the particular cars to make them a little better, and that’s fascinating to see. ” 

Leaving Jörn to work on the overdrive-equipped Moss gearbox on his bench, we move over to one of our final victims, Bradey, who’s motivations for joining CKL are a bit closer in order to what we’d imagined at the begin. “My family have always had an interest in vehicles – the nan had a Mk 9 Jaguar in the 60s plus 70s, my dad has the Sunbeam Alpine, so I’ve been around cars. ” 

“After Covid it had been really difficult to get a job coming out of college. I found CKL and am got in touch with Mark, and I was just amazed at the facilities and the variety associated with cars within here. There is machining, welding, painting, focusing on race cars and road cars : it was a real eye-opener and it’s a privilege to work here. We want to stay here once I actually finish our course. I have been right here since July, so hopefully soon I’ll have the ability to level up in order to full-time mechanic. ” 

Bradey has already been working closely with another of CKL’s veteran mechanics, Dave, who is been with CKL since 2008. With so much encounter under his belt, all of us had to ask Dave which skills were the particular hardest to teach: “You’re not just fitting parts, it’s old-school engineering. That’s what I like most about this job: it’s a bit more of the puzzle. Basic hand-tooling is certainly one of the most difficult things in order to teach. In modern vehicles, if something doesn’t fit, you send it away and get a different part. Here, you have to start filing and make it work. We’re fabricators and technicians, we’ll weld and do anything we all can to get the project moving in the right direction. Whenever you’re creating a car you require to understand the whole picture, and if you don’t have got that understanding and communication between departments, you often end up going backwards. ” 

It’s Dave’s last point that really summarised our whole experience along with CKL’s masters and apprentices; no matter their age, or what department they’re working in, the guys at CKL are training and learning from each other, which forms a cohesive team. Regardless of the potential to get a healthy salary at the end of the apprenticeship, the particular bond between the men in CKL’s workshop and their shared enthusiasm is the greatest incentive we can think associated with for young people looking to get involved in classic car restoration.

Photos simply by Tom Shaxson for Traditional Driver 

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