6 February 2015

The Apprentice

Pairing top students with top shops to preserve the craft and build careers

THE GOAL of the Hagerty Education Program at America's Car Museum (HEP) has always been to get young people interested and involved in the old cars we love through education and first-hand experience. Nowhere is that more apparent than at Keith Flickinger’s shop, Precision Motor Cars, in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Flickinger is curator of the America's Car Museum Collection and chief caretaker of the Nicola Bulgari Collection. As a master craftsman in the classic car hobby, he’s also hosting the HEP’s first-ever apprentice.

The Apprenticeship Program was developed by the HEP board and its chairman, America's Car Museum President and CEO David Madeira. “As we talked with students and with professionals in the field, we realized that students need more direct ‘in shop’ training than traditional programs can provide,” he says.

The first beneficiary of the program is 25-yearold Ryan Levesque. As a business major at Pennsylvania College of Technology, Ryan got bitten by the car bug in his final semester, when he enrolled in an automotive paint and bodywork course. He graduated but soon returned for another two years as one of the first students in the school's new Automotive Restoration Technology program.

He met Flickinger at Amelia Island in 2014 and the two stayed in touch. Then the six-month apprenticeship opportunity came about, and it’s been valuable for both men. And if the program continues, it could have a positive long-term impact on the industry at large.

Flickinger provides room and board, along with a small stipend, and in exchange Ryan is getting practical, real-world experience with a variety of classic cars. “I’m exposed to so much here,” he says. “My first project was complete disassembly of a 1940 Graham — bagging bolts, tagging every piece.”

For his part, Flickinger understands the importance of keeping skilled hands on deck. “I wanted to give back to a hobby and profession that’s given me so much pleasure,” he says. “But the biggest void is the gap between doing this stuff in school and doing it in a shop. It takes a couple years to adjust.” Making that adjustment easy is a key attribute of the program, and Flickinger has heard it firsthand. “Ryan has told me he’s learned more in these few months around the shop than he did in two years in college.”

Flickinger says no matter what Ryan does once his apprenticeship is up, he knows Ryan's experience will benefit the profession as a whole.

Ryan is already beginning to figure out what comes next. “I’d love to be a collection curator,” he says. With his business degree and the experience he’s getting in the middle of one of the finest collections in the world, he seems well on his way.

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