School’s In: Employee learning at Hagerty U keeps the engines running



Aaron Howard didn’t used to consider himself a car guy.

But after about two and a half years working at classic vehicle insurer Hagerty and tapping a unique offering of in-house classes, he’s learned a lot professionally and personally, from car makes and models and automotive nuts and bolts, to identifying and leveraging his strengths.

Enter Hagerty University – Hagerty U for short – a corporate learning enterprise that spans dozens of subjects, to the benefit of employees and company.

“One of our core values is improve every day, and that’s something Hagerty U has really reinforced in me,” said Howard, a licensed sales agent. “It’s pretty fantastic, actually. There is all kinds of stuff that’s offered.”

Begun more than a dozen years ago as a means to ensure that employees joining Hagerty “had a fundamental understanding and sound expectations around the values that supported our organization,” Hagerty U has grown from a couple programs around corporate strategy and vehicle knowledge to more than 70 different classes, said Vice President of Development Kate Hogan.

It’s a focus on continued education, professional development and personal growth that underpins Hagerty – a company that is about not just insurance but an automotive lifestyle brand, with a magazine, drivers’ club and businesses built around the love of driving.

Through Hagerty U, the company’s 1,100 employees and interns can take the classes to grow and develop in areas that apply to their work, interests and personal lives. Take Engine Guts and Glam, a class that helps employees learn the mechanics of an engine and includes taking apart and assembling a plastic engine mold.

Then there is the Hagerty Driving Experience, which pairs classic car information and knowledge – including learning to operate a manual transmission – with a spin in Hagerty fleet vehicles like a 1930 Ford Model A, a 1962 International pickup, Ford’s inaugural 1964 ½ Mustang, and a 1990 Mazda Miata.


The Driving Experience is among classes that are “awesome,” said Hagerty Commercial Account Specialist Alexandra Layne.

“You can relate to people much easier when you understand what they’re talking about,” she said.

Hagerty U’s 40-page curriculum guide lists classes in hobby expertise, business skills, insurance, wellness, and leadership – helping employees broaden their ability to lead themselves and to lead others. Curriculum also includes internal career development and preparing for career opportunities, even if those opportunities lie elsewhere.

“We recognize as a business that some of our employees might not stay here,” Hogan said. “We feel that when people come here, it’s about becoming better as a person, and growing and learning. We feel that when you leave here, that you’re a better person.”

Rich Wolin, regional vice president of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center at Northwestern Michigan College, which has partnered with Hagerty on some training programs, said Hagerty’s investment and focus on continued education and learning is “a key element that has made them as successful as they are.” It helps Hagerty attract employees as well as develop an internal pool of talent that is aligned with the company’s culture and customer service principles, propelling business growth, he said.

One class provided through NMC is called Get More Done, focusing on tools to increase daily productivity and reduce stress. NMC has also helped Hagerty employees who train others, through an active learning model/train-the-trainer program. The day-long class “starts with challenging the trainer to figure out why this training is important to the organization” and uses several steps to build, deliver and adjust training activities, Wolin said.

For the most part, though, Hagerty taps its internal subject matter experts – a roster of more than 75 people including executives, managers and technical masters in various areas of Hagerty operations – to lead Hagerty U classes. Classes vary in length from an hour to one day. They are offered online via webinars and e-learning, or in person, depending on content.

Hagerty’s Layne, for example, said she’s spent eight-hour days working alongside a Hagerty garage mechanic in a class called the Employee Restoration Project, which allows an employee to participate in different stages of the vehicle restoration process.

Layne said she’s taken the class three times and worked on four different cars, including one in which she replaced a brake line. She said she took the class to gain “real hands-on experience” to boost her own knowledge and also work with her commercial customers (members, as customers and others are called within Hagerty), which include classic car restoration shops and museums.

Among non-car curriculum, she gives kudos to a class called Strengths Finder, in which employees identify individual strengths and learn to use them.

“You learn quite a bit about yourself, but you also learn about others and how you can work really well with them,” Layne said.

Some Hagerty U offerings are required, like a code of conduct class that covers work expectations aligned with the company’s employee handbook and values. Another – one of Hagerty’s first educational offerings – teaches the automobile’s evolution and key points in history. Hogan said electives that see the most interest involve automotive and individual leadership topics, the latter including classes such as Strengths Finder and Emotional Intelligence.

She said Hagerty evaluates curriculum annually and has discontinued some programs over the years while adding others to an ever-expanding lineup. The company’s commitment to corporate training has been recognized by Training magazine, most recently listing Hagerty in its 2018 annual ranking of 125 organizations throughout the world that excel at employee training and development.

The magazine, which ranked Hagerty 36th on the list, noted the company’s 2017 launch of a program that certifies employees in different levels of automotive knowledge. The Automotive Enthusiast Certification program combines classes and hands-on experiences covering areas that include automotive history, industry trends, engine mechanics, and car makes and models.

Exams or assessments mark each certification level, which includes Nuts and Bolts, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd gears. Hogan said more than 250 employees have completed different levels of certification.
Hagerty’s Howard was among them.

“People who have known me my whole life said you weren’t a car guy until you started at Hagerty, and now you get really enthusiastic about this,” he said.

A car show fundamentals class trained Howard on how to represent Hagerty at car shows and other events; he most recently volunteered at a Hagerty-hosted car show at the June Cedar Polka Fest. He said the class helped him among other things to talk to vehicle owners and support the car-collecting hobby.

“You want to ask what their story is, how they found that vehicle,” Howard said. “Because everyone’s got a story.”

He said Hagerty U has promoted knowledge and understanding – like a Shop Talk series exploring automotive topics such as specific makes and models – that helps him connect with customers.

“We know the questions to ask when someone calls in, we know what they are talking about when they talk about their vehicle,” Howard said.

And even though the call may be about insurance, he said, there’s something else the customer wants to talk about.

“They want to talk about their cars,” he said.

Amy Lane is a freelance journalist and former reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business, where she covered business, state government, energy and utilities for nearly 25 years.