Friday, 23 February 2018

Launching careers in auto restoration


Justin Smeltzer, above, interned at LeMay — America’s Car Museum with help from a grant the museum got from RPM Foundation.

RPM Foundation

History: Established in 2005 as the Collector’s Foundation; later renamed the Hagerty Education Program
What it offers: Grants for educational institutions, restoration shops and individual students to promote learning and training in the restoration industry

Remember pop-up headlights? Carburetors? Sleeve- valve engines? You may not remember all of them, but every day, restorers work on classic cars with those features.

As with technicians for today’s cars, technicians who perform that specialized work are aging, and it is difficult to recruit and train young talent to replace them.

Enter the RPM Foundation.

The grant-giving organization was started in 2005 as the Collectors’ Foundation by McKeel Hagerty, CEO of classic car insurer Hagerty Insurance Agency. Funding for the 501(c)(3) foundation comes in part from Hagerty but also from a large donor base.

The foundation was rebranded in 2015 as the RPM Foundation; the group’s logo includes the words “Restoration. Preservation. Mentorship.” It provides scholarships to students looking to train as automotive and classic marine restorers via grants to technical schools, restoration shops and other institutions to provide training and apprenticeships. It also acts as a guide for young people considering a career in restoration and helps them connect with the right educational institutions.

A career

Starting with high school juniors, the foundation works actively to promote the field as a good career path, via its own staff and a team of 11 volunteer ambassadors around the country. The work includes not only direct outreach to schools but sometimes microlevel guidance for students and their families, who can be skeptical of the field’s career prospects.

“It’s very hard to convince parents that this is an actual, real work industry and that their child can actually make a very good living at it,” said Pam Dudley, the foundation’s administrative coordinator. Dudley said staff and ambassadors sometimes offer tours of shops and schools to reinforce the fact that there is a real need for such jobs and that they can be lucrative careers.

There are three grant cycles a year, and the number of applicants is increasing: from 10-12 applicants per cycle in 2015 to 20-22 per cycle in 2016. The grants vary in size. They can be as little as $350 to cover expenses related to an individual internship, up to pools of $40,000 for a set of scholarships at a large institution such as McPherson College in McPherson, Kan., which offers a four-year degree in restoration.

Justin Smeltzer, 21, a senior at McPherson, has firsthand experience with the kind of assistance the foundation provides. Smeltzer, a native of Glendora, Calif., grew up liking classic cars but not having a family or direct connection to them.

“I even took some auto shop classes privately because my high school didn’t offer them,” he said.

Between his junior and senior years at McPherson, Smeltzer interned at LeMay – America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Wash., with help from a grant the museum received from RPM.

The real-world experiences and networking opportunities of internships are invaluable, but unpaid internships far from home can be cost prohibitive. “RPM’s grant is what made it possible for me to make a little over the summer and live there, honestly,” Smeltzer said.

Who gets grants

Generally, grants are given to institutions rather than individuals and are tailored to the opportunities available. For example, 2015 recipient Pennsylvania College of Technology, in Williamsport, Pa., had most of its grant distributed as scholarships at the school. But it also received $3,500 to help cover costs associated with a pair of 10-week internships at a restoration shop, Precision Motor Cars, two hours away in Allentown.

Grants to individuals happen less often but are possible for students with a well-defined program or internship at a familiar institution.

The foundation is constantly evaluating shops and institutions to fund. “Every school that applies has a purpose. They may not all be a good fit,” Dudley said. But, she added, even if a shop is not currently a good match, the foundation keeps communications open with that shop for future opportunities.

RPM Foundation

History: Established in 2005 as the Collector’s Foundation; later renamed the Hagerty Education Program
What it offers: Grants for educational institutions, restoration shops and individual students to promote learning and training in the restoration industry



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