David Redhead's Apprenticeship

David Redhead

Job Title: Managing Director

Employer: BSP

How did you get on at school?

In my day everyone took a test when they were in their last year of junior school. It was called the 11+ and only 20% of children passed it. I was not one of those so along with most people went to the local secondary modern called Priory Heath (now Holywells). Although I was in the A stream all the way, out of a class of 32, I came about 28th until the final year when I came 3rd.

There was no question of staying on at school after the age of 16 and I left at 15 and a half. My interest from the age of about 10 was in things mechanical such as taking engines apart – looking at how they worked and then putting them together again and it was that interest that has shaped my whole working life.

How did you find out about apprenticeships?

About five different employers knocked on my father’s door – yes, employers came to our house because they were looking for apprentice engineers. My dad looked closely into all the offers and decided Reavells (now Compair) was the best because it was a big company and because it offered me a lot of options.

And then what happened?

I joined Reavells as an apprentice in 1962 along with 20 other lads – there were 100 apprentices altogether. Reavells took on at least 20 apprentices every year. In those days many people were employed in engineering in the UK and in Ipswich alone there were a number of big engineering factories employing thousands of people – they have nearly all gone or are tiny compared with what they used to be.

What was your first day like?

Scary. A new world of work from just having been at school - work experience just did not happen in those days. It was all new. Some time was spent learning about tools and undertaking test pieces.

Then we were sent to college – it wasn’t called Suffolk New College then but it was the same site as today. We all did an 18 week intense course in general engineering and at the end we all sat a test that decided where in Reavells we were going to work. If your marks were between 0 and 50% you learnt to become a fitter or turner, 50-80% you learnt to be a technician and if you got 80-100% you were put on the national diploma course. I somehow got the 80-100 so I got on the national diploma course and the chance to work in all the engineering disciplines.

What did you earn?

£2-2s-6d a week – that’s about £2.10

What work did you do?

Over my 5 years as an apprentice I worked in all the disciplines – for example foundry, pattern shop, heat treatment, forging, tool shop, light and heavy machinery, erection, testing, turning, welding etc. This was why my father had selected Reavells.

What was important about the apprenticeship for you?

It was a fantastic start to my career, a 5 year on-the-job training with day-release to a superb engineering department at Suffolk College. It was literally the best apprenticeship anyone could ever have and the whole of my life has been built on it. After my apprenticeship finished Reavells put me into the drawing office and on the Higher National Diploma at Suffolk College – so it was the gateway to both working and learning for me, a total of 7 years.

What role did Suffolk New College play in your apprenticeship?

The college guys taught us so much – they knew a lot and they had superb facilities and we learnt about every aspect of engineering there.

What qualifications did you gain?

Several technical qualifications ending with an HND in engineering.

How long were you an apprentice and what were the best bits?

5 years. The best bits getting involved in real engineering and mechanics at the manufacturing stage and putting what was essentially a hobby into reality.

What jobs have you had so far and what are you doing now?

  • 1967 - I worked in one of the Reavells drawing offices dreaming I would become team leader by the time I was 40
  • 1971 - I got a job here at BSP as Technical Sales Engineer – which meant selling pile driving hammers operated by air compression systems – which was the way pile driving was done back in the 60s and 70s
  • 1973 - I was asked where I saw my future and because I said I enjoyed exports, BSP sent me to learn about the Middle East. This was in the days before the boom. The trip involved Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Oman, UAE, Iran, Bahrain and Saudi – I had hardly been out of Ipswich so this was a massive shock to the system but such an opportunity to learn new skills in a completely different culture
  • 1974 - I made my first trip to Iraq continuing up to just before the last Gulf War, over 30 years of travel
  • 1978 – I was appointed Area Sales Manager for Middle East and India
  • 1980 – I was appointed Export Sales Manager for Middle East, India and Africa including Nigeria, Ghana etc
  • 1983 - I was appointed Company Sales Director. During the time involved directly in sales, I spent around 120 days per year out of the UK on Company business and visited 85 countries for the company
  • 1996 – I was appointed Company Managing Director

What about the future?

I am scheduled to retire in a year or so but will be available for consultancy and maybe devote time to seeing what I can do to get more young people into engineering or manufacturing and other companies involved in exports.