A conversation with Ben Dewson, by Kian / by Kian West

I’M NOT BIG ON SPEEDING. I DRIVE A VAN, SO IT’S NOT REALLY GOING TO HAPPEN ANYWAY… SO ON THE THURSDAY AFTERNOON I CAUGHT UP WITH BEN DEWSON, WHO HAPPENS TO BE THE CEO OF FIFTH LEVEL TRAINING, I WAS RUNNING LATE TO GET THERE, BUT HE STILL SHOUTED ME A BEER. SO I GUESS HE DOESN’T HATE ME.

We sat down at 5 Sawyers on Darby Street to have a chat about Ben’s businesses: Holistic Security, 5 Sawyers and the newest addition, Fifth Level Training. As well as that, I wanted to get his opinion on the whole ‘Newcastle solution’. You know –  the one where a heap of old people who don’t go out decided that other people should have a curfew, even though they haven’t necessarily done anything wrong? But I digress. Ben is all about training people to be effective communicators, to work in harmony with the people around them, and to make Newcastle as safe as it is fun.

If you’re at a party, how do you describe yourself?

Ben: That’s a hard one. I generally try to open up with like ‘I’m a business owner’ or such. I’d probably mention Fifth Level Training, the latest venture. For a couple of reasons – the last nine or ten years I’ve run a security company, and sometimes people can put a bit of a wall up, have a few pre-conceived ideas… Which is all good, because then I like to spear into what we do for the Newy area and that I’m with the whole ‘Newcastle solution’. I’ve got a fair bit of passion. I like to talk with people who want to engage genuinely. I’d probably say that I’m in the hospitality industry, that’s even how this eventuated. With Fifth Level Training it was just a natural progression.

Without getting right into it, I genuinely feel that once you get out into the workforce, you’ve got award wages and things that employers need to pay. Accredited training is one of those things that you have to tick certain boxes compliance-wise and everyone comes out sort of the same, but I just felt there was a gap in the market that we were already kind of filling with our guys in security, so it just made sense to offer that to a wider market.

This is a tough question though, because you say a ‘house party’ – I’m generally pretty reserved. If people know me and stuff I don’t mind being the centre of attention, having a laugh and that, but I generally like to consciously – not divert the attention away, but I like to flip it and ask a lot of questions. I find if you genuinely listen and not just wait for your turn to talk, the conversation will flow and you will get questions… Unless they’re as boring as…

I have a personal mantra that is: level of interest is directly proportional to the amount of questions somebody asks. So if people are asking questions, [showing] genuine interest, listen up.

We’re in 5 Sawyers right now – you’re a co-owner? How does that work on a day-to-day basis? So there are three owners, three directors. I run the manager; the other two owners, one is a retired builder so he covers all the maintenance and repairs, the other one is Steve at EAO Entertainment, so he covers marketing and artists. Then I come in and manage meetings with the manager and chef or such.

So does this hands-on approach to training come from a philosophy around trying to be a good security guard and company? Is there an underlying story in this for Newcastle, in the changing way people go out and behave – training people who influence the way patrons behave?Absolutely! The catalyst for all this really was, as I said, I grew up out in Toronto, got into security, started working at The Kent while I was a bit bigger, 21 or 22, playing footy and that. But what I realised very quickly was that I was asking grown men to leave, and unless I found a path of least resistance, then it was going to be tough dragging people out all night. So that’s when I started on, unintentionally, just explaining to people why they needed to leave – explaining things to people, not bamboozling them with the law; just talking to people. I found that I had people shaking my hand on the way out, and it’s just something that I carried on no matter where I went in my career. Definitely once I started the security company, [I focused on] just instilling it into those guys – not to get walked all over, but to go that bit above and beyond and explain to people.

From when I started it’s gone full circle these days. As long as you can communicate to people, that’s half the job. As the company has progressed, we always say that we like getting people fresh out of the security course or something like that because they haven’t been tainted. I think it really came to fruition with this whole lockout [thing]; three years after that we were still apparently the third most violent city in the country, if you believe the statistics. We sat down, my business partners and Russ Richardson (King Street Hotel owner) and said, ‘If we don’t do something they’re going to shut it all down – we need to be proactive.’

That’s where this whole linked scanning system came from. Geelong was doing it before us. The lockout and all these other factors, whether you agree with them or not, are just external factors; nothing is changing intrinsic behaviours. The linked scanners system made people accountable – now, I’m not naïve to think alcohol doesn’t play a part, but being strict on RSA or whatever you want to do isn’t going to change people’s behaviours.

So you’ve taken all of that experience and brought it into training with a lot of hands-on scenarios? Especially with RSA; with first aid, naturally, but especially with RSA. RCG doesn’t lend itself too much to it, with gambling and such. But definitely with RSA. If you can’t do it in a simulated controlled environment, you’re never going to [in real life situations].   

If you had an opportunity to teach Newcastle one thing, what would it be? Take accountability for your actions.

 Accountability?  I have a vehement detest for victims who point the finger at everyone else and just don’t take responsibility for their actions. I’m not taking away from tragedies that happen.

Where are your favourite hangouts?

5 Sawyers, ha! I’m a big breakfast fan. I usually try to make Sunday my day off, where I don’t have anything day or night. I like going to breakfast or brunch. Watt is Art or Ground Floor. I don’t head out too much. I pretty much hammer Sticky Rice at Wickham.

 If someone comes to Newcastle, where do you have to take them?

I think the Anzac Walk is a massive goal we’ve kicked, the whole beach stretch. Probably down to Honeysuckle – and I genuinely feel that what we’ve got here at 5 Sawyers is worth showing them. Maybe a Knights or a Jets game, depending on the time of year.

Who should contact Fifth Level Training?

Anyone looking to get into the hospitality industry, especially anyone who’s planning to get a job in the industry. School leavers. For a First Aid Certificate, everyone! Anyone. Even if it is just the CPR component. If you never need to use it, that’s great, but you never regret having that.

There you have it. A pretty clever guy, Ben, helping to change the shape of nightlife in Newcastle, making our city a safer place and adding value to the community. Mirage are pretty big fans of Fifth Level Training and we urge you to check out their website and take on some training – it could be for a new career or it could simply save a life. 5lt.com.au