Bicester Heritage | News | "If you show the right commitment then it’s a brilliant career" (2023)

Can you tell us a bit more about how the Heritage Skills Academy was set up and what your mission is?

HSA moved into Bicester Heritage in 2018 after being invited to visit by Francis Galashan, via the FBHCV, they had heard about what we were doing with Classic Vehicle apprenticeships with Heritage Rolls-Royce & Bentley specialists P & A Wood. Gradually, the rest of the industry began to hear what we were doing with apprenticeships, and asked if we could work with them. So, we needed a place to go, and Francis suggested we base ourselves at Building 90.

Are apprenticeships crucial for the future of the classic motoring world? Have the course topics had to adapt and change with the times?

Yes, the industry had fallen out of love with the modern automotive qualifications and as a result, little training had taken place for many years. The Light Vehicle Level 3 qualification which had gradually distanced itself from our world and it got to the point that it no longer taught the fundamentals and focused on plug in diagnostics and replacement rather than repair. The qualification didn’t bear any real relevance to what we did and often resulted in apprentices being unable to qualify, as they couldn’t produce the evidence required for working on modern cars.

The design of the ‘Heritage Engineering Technician Standard’ tried to bring everything that was missing back, keep what was good and combine modern and old technology where they complemented each other to create a new qualification that was relevant to our world.

How many apprentices do you have under the programme today and how many on site here at Bicester?

We have approximately 200 apprentices, 30 of those are awaiting their End-Point Assessment. Those are just coming through – and so far, they’ve all been successful! We have around 50 coachbuilders, and 150 mechanical apprentices.

(Video) Bicester Heritage Sunday Scramble - Why you should come!

Are you a former apprentice yourself? Why are apprenticeships so important and how can we all help to further them?

No, I worked as a Lloyds Insurance Broker until I was 26, took a sabbatical to help a friend develop automotive apprenticeships and never went back. I’m an enthusiastic engineer not a fully trained engineer as John Passfield (Quality and Standards Manager) will no doubt tell you. I have built cars and I’ve raced cars, but I’ve never earnt on the tools, apart from several years ago when I became a Marine Engineer and worked on luxury and classic boats on the Thames.

Do you value being in Bicester/Oxfordshire, and does our geographic location help the programme?

Definitely, we only operate from destination locations, we needed to make the experience of being an apprentice with HSA something that apprentices would be very proud of and aspire to. The attraction of operating from Bicester Heritage is that apprentices are taught in a unique environment, and they are surrounded by a diverse host of other specialists onsite. The apprentices are embedded in the heart of the industry, one minute you may see a Morris Minor going by, the next it could be a multi-million-pound historic vehicle. We call it ‘The Bicester Bubble’, you come through the gate, and you are immediately in a safe zone, everyone knows what we are, what we do, and support us to achieve it – so it’s very important to us.

You have recently expanded to a new workshop at Brooklands Museum, which must instil such a connection to the birth of motorsport in the UK, how do you encourage them to connect with automotive history and apply that to their learning?

We went to Brooklands because we had outgrown our current coachbuilding facilities. At Building 103. The teaching workshops that they have there are around 4,000 sq ft. We have put a very comprehensive workshop together and that was funded by the FST and HSA. The project was led by Owain Johns (Development and Training Director) and Andy Kelly (Coachbuilding Director). They had a blank canvas, and they have put together a coachbuilding workshop that is second-to-non. It is the best coachbuilding workshop for training in the world. A lot of countries come to see what we are doing.

Tell us a bit more about the programmes on offer – how can you become an apprentice?

(Video) Touring My Favourite Car Show at Bicester Heritage!

We offer a complete package to the industry, first of all, it is funded by the ESFA (Education and Skills Funding Agency) so there are no costs for the actual training (unless the apprentice is over 19 (and requires a £31/per month contribution). The only costs the employer must pay are if the apprentice has to travel and stay locally, because we teach in one-week blocks. The employer also has to purchase a uniform, that’s the only other cost.

Janice Pitchforth (Operations Director) and Kyra Hill (Operations Manager) manage all recruitment. In 2020, Janice won an RAC Historic Award recognising her work for bringing new engineering talent into the industry. An employer will either come to us saying that they have an apprentice they would like to put on the apprenticeship, or they have a need for an apprentice, and they would like us to recruit a suitable local applicant to them for interview. HSA produce an advert. All applicants have to come to Bicester Heritage for interview, because that proves they are committed, then they will be interviewed – It is a rigorous process that takes about three quarters of a day – there’s practical tests, we test them to see what their learning style is, whether they have any knowledge of tools and then they have an interview as well. If they are successful, they are shortlisted for the appropriate garage to interview and trial them. If the trial works, they will employ them. Once they are employed they can come onto the apprenticeship.

Once you have completed the course, what are the next steps to full time employment and what support is out there to help with this?

Apprentices must have full-time employment before they even come onto the programme. They cannot go onto an apprenticeship until they are employed. Janice and Kyra have a hard-won reputation for finding the right people, the majority of the time they get it right.

Is there a moment of distinct pride that you often consider as a seminal moment in your time at the helm of the Academy? It could be in a person, or a project, or even an event…

There are so many!

For Janice and Kyra, it seeing each apprentice start their journey and watching them develop into successful and confident engineers, also the recognition by the RAC for HSA’s contribution to sustaining the industry.

(Video) Collecting Cars Coffee Run: Bicester Heritage May 2022

For the training and DC team, the apprentices completing the first ‘End Point Assessments’… it wasn’t a ‘jazz hands’ moment but it was confirmation we are doing right by them and the industry. On completion, the qualified apprentices have refused to break contact with HSA and have formed their own Alumni organisation to maintain strong links to HSA and help support other apprentices throughout their apprenticeship.

Another proud moment was when we went into lockdown, we are heavily practical as a training programme and within 72 hours we were online, five days a week. When we first put that screen on and we thought ‘who’s going to be there?’, they all flicked up, there were 12 apprentices all wearing uniform and that choked me up! Most college courses collapsed during the pandemic, but we survived and our attendance was up at around 98%.

What work ethic do you value above all others and what do you hope that people who engage with you will take away with them?

A passion for the industry and an interest in becoming a ‘Problem-Solving Engineer’, because that’s what we produce.

The reason there is a shortage of apprentices in this industry is because few people know about the opportunities the industry offers. Once applicants and parents are aware of the opportunities, applicants of all ability from good GCSE’s to Degrees are attracted to apply for an apprenticeship. Within this sector the industry has given confidence to both the applicants and the parents that if their very clever young son or daughter has chosen this industry because that is where the passion lies, the parents have the confidence to trust the industry to deliver and offer progression.

The industry has an ageing population and numerous successful companies, so if there is no one to take them over, then they can fade away. If you are clever and you’ve got passion, and that interest, the career progression is dramatically quicker within our industry than it is within any other part of the automotive sectors. If you show the right commitment then it’s a brilliant career.

What piece of advice would you give to any aspiring engineer, mechanic or enthusiast hoping to get in to the historic motoring world?

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My advice is come and speak to us about the opportunities, because they are vast. You have chances of working anywhere else in the world once you have qualified, the opportunities are superb. For anyone coming into it, it’s exciting, its varied, you get out of it what you put in but the rewards can be absolutely superb.

In your view, what are the key agendas the historic motoring world should be focusing on championing to ensure a bright future for engineering skills?

We have to be relevant to the modern world, we have to be part of the solution and not the problem. I think that the engineers that we produce have massively transferable skills, they are always solving problems and we can use that to help make us find solutions and to help make us greener. I don’t think that we are part of the problem, all of the vehicles that we work on have been produced many years ago and their environmental cost has been spread out over a many decades... the miles they cover and the fuel that they use in their ongoing life is minimal compared to modern vehicles and can easily be off-set.

Finally, can you give us some final words of wisdom and advice about business or life that you live by?

In this industry you need a bit of bloody-minded determination to convince employers that apprenticeships work. You have to not take no for an answer. When we started HSA, we were told that the young people of today were not interested in our world, and that the employers were so despondent about apprenticeships that they weren’t interested in making it a success.

But we knew that forward thinking employers like John Lomas, owner of Blue Diamond, Simeon Cattle from Project Shop, and Martin Greaves, owner of Classic Performance Engineering, would see potential if the applicants were right. They have taken that opportunity and they have proved to themselves that apprentices work. The apprentices that we have coming into this industry are magnificent, it’s the proudest I’ve ever been of any training programme.


1. Bicester Heritage Tour! | VLOG
(Dominic Chinea)
2. SUNDAY SCRAMBLE! at Bicester Heritage January 2023 - a tour of the vintage & classic cars on display
(Old Classic Car)
3. Cars Leaving | Bicester Heritage October 2022 Scramble
(Calm Trucking Truck Spotting)
4. Supercars and Classics leaving a car meet (Bicester Heritage Sunday Scramble 2023)
(Supercars In Manchester)
5. Vicki Parrott drives the Polestar 2 around the Bicester Heritage Test Track
(REVS Limiter)
6. Bicester Heritage March Sunday Scramble 2023
(Alfie Allan Racing)


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