Jeannette Spanier is a master scaffolder, managing director and founder. She has been working in scaffolding for 18 years, and for the past two years she has been managing the company “Gerüstbau Spanier & Bichler GmbH” together with her business partner. She is also the founder of two start-ups: the app “Moselcopter” for digital planning of scaffolding and the app “Scaffeye” for digital inspection and the management of scaffoldings. These are the only apps of their kind on the market.
QUESTION: Ms. Spanier, how did your professional career begin?
ANSWER: After graduating from school, I first completed a commercial apprenticeship and then joined my parents’ company. At that time, it was also important for my family that I could first gain my own experience in another company. By the second year of my apprenticeship, however, I already knew that I wanted to work in scaffolding. My scaffolding career then took its course in my parents’ company. In my early twenties, I also took over the management of one of our companies in Luxembourg. So, I was thrown in at the deep end and this was also my start into professional independence.
QUESTION: Why did you choose to become a scaffolder?
ANSWER: I am one of three daughters – the middle one. My parents always said that I should have been a boy instead of a girl. I used to climb all kinds of trees and enjoyed going with my father to construction sites and running up scaffolding – unlike my sisters, who now both work as educators. Neither of them was particularly interested in the trades. I, on the other hand, need working in crafts and I am sure that I was born with the interest. My father is a trained painter and varnisher. If he had continued this profession instead of switching to scaffolding, I would probably be a painter today, because this is a job I also like doing very much.
QUESTION: What do you particularly like about being a scaffolder?
ANSWER: Even as a child, the work in scaffolding was very exciting for me because the tasks are always different. You work on different buildings and construction sites – from private houses to complex buildings. Sometimes you can even work for one or two years on a project. Even there it never gets boring, because you always come up against new challenges and technical limits and must look for solutions with the customer to be able to complete the project.
QUESTION: What are your main professional tasks?
ANSWER: Now, it is management: controlling, working on inquiries and invoices, dunning and customer care. In the past, it was mainly the practical scaffolding work and site management. After the generation change, we revised the tasks in our company and since then I am responsible for the commercial work as I have learned these activities. My business partner is responsible for the construction sites.
QUESTION: How many employees work in your company?
ANSWER: We currently have 25 employees, 2 of whom are women: My mother, who still works part-time in payroll accounting, and I. Unfortunately, we don’t have any other women in the company. We want to hire more female apprentices, but the problem is that our training centre is in Frankfurt. The long distance of 150 km is a criterion for exclusion for all potential trainees, regardless of gender. As a result, we can no longer find any trainees for scaffolding.
QUESTION: Does the company deal with the topic of “women in construction”?
ANSWER: Yes, we do. Before the generational change, we launched a campaign, had flyers printed and used social media to search for women to work in our company. We were open to trainees as well as lateral entrants. Only two people contacted us, but in the end, nothing came out of it. For a while I also talked to a girls’ school in Trier. Unfortunately, nobody from there was interested in training in scaffolding either.
QUESTION: Why do you think the pupil from the school did not consider a profession in construction?
ANSWER: I have the impression that the teachers are not well informed about vocational education and training. Many of them only know the jobs that they can see from their doorstep. For example, I keep finding that nobody knows that you need vocational education and training to become a scaffolder. Our trade is also getting more and more demands and needs skilled workers who can learn the profession from scratch. Scaffolds must be built correctly; otherwise, serious accidents can occur. That’s a lot of responsibility.
In addition, many teachers do not deal with the topic of “women in construction”. There is probably still a social problem for young women who are interested in a construction job.
QUESTION: Why do you say it is a problem of our society?
ANSWER: I have spoken to some women who told me that they had to fight their parents’ ideas at first. Even the grandparents got involved and threatened their grandchildren with disinheritance. Sometimes you hear stories that you don’t want to believe.
That’s why I think the most important thing is to better educate the parents and teachers about the construction industry. Many people still believe that studying is better than working in a trade. But this is no longer true, for example, in relation to the wage structure alone. You can earn good in the trades and even crises can’t hurt you much. During the pandemic we did not have to stop working.
QUESTION: What role do the parents play in the career choices of their children?
ANSWER: I believe that many girls and young women are thinking about working in a trade but are afraid to express themselves and prefer to choose the path that their parents want. Maybe they can’t cope with the pressure at home and don’t dare to say, “Stop, I’ll do my thing now, even as long as my feet are still under your table.” You know the sayings of the adults. My appeal to parents is to give the children the freedom to choose their own path and to encourage them to follow this path, even if there are difficulties.
QUESTION: What can schools/vocational schools do to generate interest among students?
ANSWER: We should start introducing the professions of construction to the children in kindergarten. Scaffolding – that’s a bit like building with Lego bricks – only for grown-ups. Before the pandemic, groups of preschool children visited our company. They all got sponsored safety vests and helmets and could put together toy scaffoldings. These were then displayed on a small pedestal. We also let a drone fly, but almost all the children had more fun building the scaffoldings than watching the drone. Even the girls loved building something. That’s why I think that such campaigns should be organized multiple times during the school years so that they run like a red thread through the work in education.
Another aspect, as mentioned earlier, is the distance from the company that takes trainees to the vocational school. Nowadays, it is no longer appropriate to place an apprentice in a boarding school for six weeks to be taught for that period. There must be a different way. Smaller classes could be organized, and the chambers of crafts could join their forces to do this. Digital classes should be offered where it makes sense, and the building yards could alternate training across the country.
QUESTION: What is Scaffeye?
ANSWER: Scaffeye is a platform to manage and test scaffoldings with legal security. It can be operated from the office via the web platform, where all inquiries and orders are received and stored. Scaffeye is also cloud-based and offers the possibility to work on your project files, no matter where you are.
The core element of Scaffeye is to digitally handover scaffoldings: After a scaffolding has been properly set up, it must be unblocked in the app and thus receive a release note. I always compare this process with an inspection tag drivers receive for their cars. Scaffeye works similarly. With the release, the workers confirm that they have built the scaffolding correctly and that it has been checked by a foreman in accordance with the regulations.
QUESTION: How did the idea for the app arise?
ANSWER: Information on paper and photos can often be stored by different people and get lost. Without the original document you do not have a legally secure proof of your work. We needed a process where all the data was available digitally in one place for everyone involved.
QUESTION: How does Scaffeye work?
ANSWER: All data and photos are documented in the app. This way, all project participants can see the status of the scaffolding. The customer is notified in real time whether the scaffolding is locked or build and released and receives images and time stamps. This means that the scaffold cannot be manipulated retroactively.
Before the scaffold is used, the scaffold user must carry out an inspection. The inspection is then also entered in the app. Any defects detected are also recorded in the app so that all project participants receive a warning in real time and the scaffold can be blocked.
QUESTION: What are the advantages of the app?
ANSWER: In the app, you can document the entire life cycle of the scaffold. Especially for occupational safety, but also for legal situations in the event of an accident, the app answers important questions: When was the scaffolding handed over? What do the pictures look like? Who was on the scaffold and when? Who was involved in the project. Who did not fulfil his/her obligations? By storing the data in the app, the scaffolder can provide complete proof of all work steps.
QUESTION: What potential does digitalization offer in connection with the topic of “women in construction”?
ANSWER: Some developments such as digitalization open the profession as a possible working field for more women. We can show perspectives to female apprentices who can imagine having a family in the future. Digitalization offers new areas of work, such as the 3D designer, who plans the scaffolding in advance. The topics of occupational safety and BIM open new business areas as well as create new jobs.
QUESTION: What advice would you give to girls and women who can imagine working in the construction industry?
ANSWER: I always say that if you have a dream, you should live it. The road is not always straight, even if it may seem like that from the outside. The way is bumpy. Sometimes you must turn right and sometimes left. It is important that you believe in what you are doing, put your heart and soul into it, and go your own way.