DAVE Benstead is chairman of the Oldham Enterprise Trust and plays a key role in business, skills and education programmes, locally and nationally.
He is particularly interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, reflecting his own career in engineering, electronics and aerospace sectors.
He has worked at home and abroad and been in his current role as HR Director at semiconductor manufacturer Diodes Zetex in Chadderton since 1996. In addition to his
Diodes work, he has been involved in numerous engineering industry and grassroot projects to nurture personal and enterprise skills.
His commitment has been recognised with accolades including a Queen’s Award for Enterprise, special recognition from the Oldham Business Awards and a civic accolade from Oldham Council.
In recent years, Dave’s community-focused business and educational activities have developed with Oldham Enterprise Trust. The enterprise trust runs a range of programmes and support aimed mainly at younger people including business grants and loans, business and skills advice, and educational schemes.
As reported in the last edition of Oldham Business Edge magazine, the trust has helped 140 Oldham businesses and the creation of 280 jobs since its launch. Its loans and grants for young people come from the Stoller Charitable Trust, which manages the philanthropic activities of Sir Norman Stoller.
Here, Dave Benstead talks about his career, which has included working in Lancashire, Germany and Libya (during the rule of Colonel Gadaffi), his interest in industrial relations and human resources; and his local activities in Oldham over the past 23 years.
With a father serving in the RAF, Dave Benstead travelled about as a boy. He lived in Cyprus for some time but whenever his family came home, they went to his grandparents’ home in Kirkham, Lancashire.
He recalled: “They lived in a terraced house on a street called Mill Street. I can remember going into the local textile mill to visit my grandparents at work. It was dusty and very noisy, so everybody was speaking and lip-reading in that old mill workers’ way. I used to play with cardboard cones at the mill.”
The young Dave attended the local CE school and sang in the church choir. The family travelled around the UK and when Dave was 8 or 9 moved to Lincolnshire when his father was posted with the RAF. When his grandad died, the family returned to Lancashire and Dave continued his education at the local High school. Wanting to become a doctor Dave joined the St John Ambulance Brigade while at high school but because of his abilities in engineering and maths was steered towards an apprenticeship at one of the major engineering employers.
“In those days it was assumed that young lads would join GEC, the British Gas Corporation, BNFL or the British Aircraft Corporation (now BAe). I completed some of my GCE O levels early and was offered an apprenticeship at the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC). It was considered one of the elite apprenticeships. I did all the foundation training in engineering, turning, milling, welding and woodwork but soon became bored and spent more time fooling around than doing what I was being paid for. This job didn’t suit me! Fortunately during my second year the company needed electricians so I redirected my studies towards electronics and aeronautical engineering and spent time in various departments at Samlesbury, Warton and Preston working on military aircraft such as the Jaguar, Tornado and Canberra.”
“I remember watching the RAF aircrew when they flew into Samlesbury and thought I’d apply
to the RAF to become a fast jet pilot. I went through the officer and aircrew selection
process at Biggin Hill which was a tough process. By Day 4 I realised it wasn’t for me.”
The work at BAC failed to excite him as a 21 year old fresh from completing an apprenticeship so he left BAC and worked selling and repairing cash registers. That utilised his electronics knowledge but again didn’t excite. He then worked as an electrician on the new Royal Preston hospital in the late 70’s and then contracting at several other locations in England finally doing something he enjoyed.
After seeing a newspaper recruitment advert for aircraft engineers in Hamburg, he moved to Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm (MBB) to work on the Airbus. From there he moved on to work in Heidelberg in Germany and then Basle in Switzerland. When these contracts finished he set his sites on more exotic locations and moved to Libya where he worked for Esso and Occidental on Oil and Gas plants then a US firm ICC awarded the contract to build a 500 head dairy just outside a town called Sebha way down in the Sahara.vTravelling out to work for Esso around 1979/80 he landed at Benghazi airport shortly after it
had been bombed in conflicts during the era of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
He recalls the arrivals hall being a makeshift shed on the edge of the runway. I was taken to Marsa el Brega, a location on the coast where Esso had an LPG/LNG facility where I worked as an Instrument Technician and then Electrician.
“I remember working on a jetty which extended out to sea and looking up to see the plant on fire. Needless to say we were evacuated before returning once the fire was out to rebuild the facility and get it back online producing gas. This was also the location of a Libyan military base so cameras were banned. I did manage to sneak a camera in with me and have a few photos. I looked back at the site on Google Earth following the conflict in Libya when Gaddafi’s reign came to an end. Unsurprisingly nothing is left apart from the outlines of buildings. The only bad memory Ihave is travelling out to sea to meet one of the large gas tankers and experiencing seasickness!”
Working life in Libya included challenges such as getting through army check-points and dealing with provocation from airport security staff, who would empty his passport and personal belongings onto the floor just before boarding.
“There were a lot of guns in Libya. You had to be careful who you spoke to.
Someone once offered to take me to meet Colonel Gadaffi but I politely declined.”
Dave still has some copies of the Green Book, which outlined the political philosophy of Muammar Gaddafi. It was first published in 1975 and partly inspired by The Little Red Book
of quotations from China’s Chairman Mao.
He found himself alone once or twice in the city of Tripoli and had to cross the symbolic Green Square as revolutionary troops marched and chanted. He also had to visit the British Embassy over some complications with visas.
Working for Occidental Oil took Dave further into the Saharan Desert where he recalls life being tough but a terrific experience. “I once got lost in a sandstorm travelling out to a drilling rig on my own. The advice was to stop if you lost visibility but I kept going and did a complete 360 degree loop back to where I started. No-one ever found out! Despite some scary experiences, I enjoyed working in Libya. I had a permanent sun tan, good pay, a sports car and my own house. I’d joined the ex-pat scene.
RETURN TO THE UK
After returning to the UK, Dave met his wife, Wendy, in Preston in 1982. He settled down and continued working as an electrician. He studied business studies at Preston Polytechnic, focusing on industrial relations, labour economics and employment law achieving a BA (Hons). During his time studying Dave moved into a Sales Engineer role and became interested in the different approaches companies had towards management training. He spent time researching several organisations.
“I was interested in who made the decisions – the engineers or the finance people?
And what standing did engineers have in the industry? BAe were interested in my
background and offered me a position working in the Industrial Relations department.”
Shortly after joining Bae they were targeted by the trades unions as part of the 35 hour working week dispute. I recall being surprised by how closely senior management and senior trade union officials worked compared with how polarised relationships were on the shop floor. I considered carrying out research during the dispute which planted the seed for a continuation of my academic studies. BAe sponsored me to complete a master’s degree on organisational analysis and behaviour at Lancaster University, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
MOVING TO OLDHAM
He was then approached by semiconductor firm Zetex in Chadderton about joining. After finding out more and meeting Zetex representatives, he joined as HR director with global responsibilities in 1996.
“This was an exciting move for me at a time when the industry was moving quickly and Zetex was finding it’s feet as a global business with frequent downturns causing cutbacks.” The business grew steadily and in 2008, it was sold to US-based Diodes which has a global network of sites. Today, around 350 staff are based at the Chadderton Diodes operation.
Zetex was a member of the EEF which was then an employers federation. Dave became the EEF north-west treasurer and then regional president.
With the EEF’s Employment Policy and Skills Committee, he has liaised with manufacturers and ministers on supporting UK manufacturing and training. In other activities, Dave became the chairman of the council’s Oldham Economic Partnership now the Economy and Enterprise Board which he still chairs.
He later formed the Oldham Business Leadership Group which worked closely with former Oldham Council leader Jim McMahon and chief executive Charlie Parker. He is on the board of the Mahdlo Youth Zone, a Governor at Oldham Sixth Form College and Maggie’s the cancer care centre in Oldham.
OLDHAM ENTERPRISE TRUST
In more recent years, Dave has helped launch the Oldham Enterprise Trust. The trust is a charitable organisation which provides practical support and distributes funding, in the form of loans and grants, from the Stoller Charitable Trust, which manages the activities of philanthropist Sir Norman Stoller.
The advice, mentoring, grants and loans are designed to support entrepreneurs, start-up businesses and established SMEs with potential to grow. The trust is also an Oldham Business Edge magazine partner.
“The enterprise trust is going from strength-to-strength, and we continue to look to improve it. It’s not just for entrepreneurs and business owners. It’s also there to make young people more employable. Most young people already have employability skills they can use in the workplace, but they might not know this, or recognise these skills in themselves. They need to understand which of these valuable skills they have and be able to explain how they have used these skills in real situations. Young people today still struggle to identify what employability skills are and how they might develop and identify these skills. We aim to help.”
“We’ve got to understand what the younger generation can offer us – rather than just tell
them what we need. We need to keep talented young people in towns like Oldham.
Employers need to appeal to young people. For example, does engineering excite
millennials? It didn’t excite me at first!”
On the subject of education, he said: “It was a major disappointment when the Greater Manchester University Technical College in Oldham was closed in 2017. It offered a unique selling point for Oldham.”
At the time, the GM University Technical College on Middleton Road was the seventh UTC to close nationally. It was opened to provide an innovative technical education for 14-to 19 year-old but failed to recruit enough pupils.
The government’s national UTC programme was criticised by some as a failed experiment which struggled to attract motivated 14-year-olds from established high schools.
Despite the setback, Dave remains interested in the potential for focused STEM and vocational learning activity.
He said: “If a town or borough can start putting the pieces together, then it can grab the attention of engineering and STEM companies and become a destination for them to locate. We have the roads and infrastructure, and we want to build the talent. We also have the Regional Science Centre in Oldham and I’d like to think something can be developed with the former University Technical College building in future.
“Engineering companies can help. We take graduates from lots of universities and we have a common interest in creating the right skills-set and offering good careers.”
OTHER CURRENT ACTIVITIES
Recognition of Dave’s contributions to skills and educational activities in Oldham include receiving a Queen’s Award for Enterprise from the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, an Oldham Business Awards special achievement accolade and civic recognition from Oldham Council.
He said: “I received the council award in the Council Chamber at Oldham Civic Centre, which was a real honour. I live in Preston but I’m very passionate about Oldham. It’s where my heart is.”
Dave is also a member of Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s Business Advisory Panel.
He promotes various STEM programmes aimed at primary school children such as Primary Engineer which he introduced into Oldham schools. In summary, he said: “Oldham has a strong enterprise heritage and a strong community. It always comes together when it needs to. Getting the business community together and getting business people focused on topics which will help to grow Oldham’s economy is I’m sure, easier in Oldham than some areas, because of the pride and our drive to make things better.”
For more details about Oldham Enterprise Trust, contact trust manager Graham McKendrick at Oldham Council. Call 0161 770 3356 or 07515 188974. Email: