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By Tom Endean (@tomendean)

Will we lose our skills?

Tom Endean - Little Classics Pointless Opinion - Will we lose our skills?There was a time when the UK was powered by four simple activities: digging up stuff; making stuff from what you dug up; selling what you made; and owning everyone else’s stuff. We rarely do the first anymore and the second has changed almost beyond recognition.

We do still makes things, but we’ve moved away from being the world’s workshop and become a specialist. We still lead the world in several types of engineering – but more often than not, even British engineering has numerous bits outsourced to cheaper parts of the world.

I’m not looking to get into the macroeconomics of this all. I’m not looking to argue for or against mining, manufacturing, or the good ol’ days, because most of it will be wrong. However, even as a world leader in some seriously complex stuff, the man (I know it’s sexist, but bear with me) on the street now struggles to change a light bulb, let alone make anything.

When my friends started buying their first homes a few years back, I was drafted in to help with the very complex tasks of hanging mirrors, putting flat-pack furniture together and putting up shelves. I was shocked by the general lack of manual skills held by ‘Modern Man’. As a group we’re useless!

Our fathers and their fathers could reassemble most items in their houses if they needed to. We however, call someone or use an app to order a new one! Gone are the days when us men were useful because we could fix things. So listen up lads, before your better half realises, get it sorted.

This is exactly the same with cars. When we were making things, most of those things were built by hand. It meant when something went wrong with your car or bike you could fix it, or you knew a bloke who could show you how to fix it. Now, if I look at the two cars sat in my drive, one was built by blokes at Triumph (usually on strike), which means I can see how most stuff works. The other car was built in 2002 and in many cases I need a special computer to work on it.

Tom Endean - Little Classics Pointless Opinion - Will we lose our skills? Triumph Spitfire

The problem

Two things have struck me that are worrying.

The first is that in a few years’ time, we may struggle to find the skills we need for the things we can’t do ourselves. I for example, have never tried making a body panel from scratch and although willing, I suspect it will results in a lot of mangled panels for a while. As we also know – when skills become scares, they also become expensive!

The second worrying fact is that machines are becoming less and less accommodating to the average bloke with a bag of spanners. So what does this mean for future classics? Personally I have little love for many modern cars, but a few are glorious and should be saved. However, I fear only the richest will be able to own classics with the need of very specialist stuff to keep them maintained.

Life is slightly easier for classic bikes, as there is less in the way of bodywork, but skills such as welding, rebuilding carburettors and understanding the internal combustion engine are still essential. With future classic bikes, the same problem occurs. You may be able to get to slightly more, but the engine has become less of a machine and more of a computer.

The solution

We are seeing new apprenticeships being launched to keep a dedicated core of skilled individuals ready to help with our classic cars and bikes – but let’s be honest, gone are the days, when every skill you needed was in your own town. Finding all the skills you need is going to become tougher and tougher.

Ironically, it’s technology that can help. We now all have access to the web to publish articles, references, videos and resources. This online resource is growing faster than it can be consumed. YouTube for example grows about 50 times faster that it’s possible to watch. This means we’re never going to run short or ‘how to’ videos, restoration advice articles or helpful guides and forums.

We’re also seeing the technology of tools open up more opportunities to the budding amateur mechanic. You can now get welders that are fully programmable to make this skill approachable by most – all of this is only going to get better and easier. The same can be said for some of the plug-in computer stuff for those cars now entering modern classic status. Over the next few years we will see more of the very specialist tech in professional garages move through to the kit you can own at home.

However, all of this relies on us. We all need to combine our knowledge. This is where the vital role of our many classic vehicle clubs come in. It’s their dedication and unwavering support that means the government hear our voices, the media hear our voices and other enthusiasts hear our voices. So if you haven’t already joined a club, do. You don’t even need a classic – just bring enthusiasm and maybe we can all seem a little less useless.


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