Chiara verlegt zusammen mit ihren Kollegen Dämmplatten auf dem Dach
Author: Karen Hanne
Pictures: Hanno Meier

Above the roofs of Bochum

Always cheerful, always on top of things: Chiara loves to fasten screws, operate saws and get her hands dirty high above the ground. The roofer has been a part of a family-run business in Bochum in the Ruhr area for quite a few years now. Taking up a trade hadn’t been her initial plan, but the 27-year-old made it work anyway.

Construction Sites instead of lecture halls

The skies above Bochum are overcast and spitting rain. A chilly breeze rustles the green safety net enveloping the scaffolding. Roofer Chiara and her colleagues don’t mind: You can insulate a building in any weather, she reassures us. We’re headed to the pitched roof of an apartment block in Bochum. Bedachungen Monteton, the roofing company for which Chiara works, is busy covering the surface in thick insulation panels and attaching counter battens. We climb up the scaffolding – three stories in total.

Chiara entered her field relatively late: “I went to university first, but it really wasn’t my thing,” she tells us after a short break. Next, she completed an apprenticeship in her parents’ office, but she soon craved a new challenge. “The only thing I really enjoyed was visiting the building sites with Dad at lunchtime. And at some point, I thought to myself: If that’s the best part of the day, why not make it the main part?” She promptly started to train as a roofer in the family business. Ingo Monteton gave her plenty of valuable advice and many opportunities to try her hand at unusual construction tasks.

In the beginning, Chiara’s parents were not keen on their daughter’s plans. Her mother, Claudia, had always wanted her to get a degree and travel the world. “I never imagined her working for us. And then she decided to train as a roofer here!” Ingo Monteton, too, was doubtful at first. He had been adamant that both his children needed to go to university. But it didn’t take them long to realize that when Chiara wants to do something, she does it. Today, Claudia thinks differently. “I’m incredibly proud of what she’s achieved.” The only thing they will never get used to is seeing their daughter work on steep rooftops. “Watching your own child up there – it’s something I try not to think about too much,” she admits.

Beating the winter blues

Chiara prefers being outdoors to inside a stuffy office. That is one of the things she appreciates about her work. Of course, it also comes with wind and rain. “But I don’t get the winter blues. I get to enjoy every single hour of daylight, every day,” she says. Certainly, none of the workers seem to be bothered by the constant drizzle. The on-site radio blasts non-stop German party anthems. Roofer Chiara and her colleagues are focused on their work, making steady progress, but there’s always time for a bit of banter.

The experienced roofer enjoys working with her team. “You never have to figure things out all by yourself. Doing everything as a team, rather than being on your own, is one of the things that make this job really fun.” And it shows: One person is operating the crane to haul heavy packages of insulation material onto the roof, another is cutting the panels and tossing them up to the third person, who securely wedges the firm foam into place and attaches it to the roof. There’s no need to discuss; everyone knows exactly what to do. This sense of community remains once everyone is off the roof, too: The team orders pizza together at lunch. It’s still raining, so the roofers are sitting on the stairs outside the entrance, huddled together under the scaffolding. Some of them stick around after work to have a few beers together.

Like any job, there are downsides to roofing: First of all, of course, the weather. Roofers have to work in the open air—even on windy, rainy winter days. In summer, there’s nothing to protect them from the burning sun. A physically demanding job done in extreme conditions. “It’s important not to underestimate this,” Chiara admits. Balance is key on pitched roofs: The workers are constantly climbing up and down vertical ladders made from screwed-on slats. Drilling the long screws into the roof takes considerable strength.

A lot has changed since Chiara’s early days, however. Today, Monteton uses a crane to haul heavy loads onto the roof. Chiara and her brother Luca, who is three years younger than her, are determined to advance their family company’s digital transformation. “When my brother joined us, we finally disconnected the fax machine for good,” she recalls. For 25 years, everything was done on paper here. Changing these habits is not easy, but absolutely doable. Nowadays, every vehicle and thus every team has its own tablet instead of handwritten time sheets. Hours, measurements, drawings and customer management is all done digitally.

Like many trades, the roofing sector is desperate for qualified professionals. Chiara wants to get children and young people interested in her profession. Many, she says, have no idea what a roofer really does. “Some of them may be aware that their grandfather was a builder for forty years, but things are nothing like they used to be. Our company really can’t complain at the moment. We get one or two apprentices every year.”

Social media sensation

Chiara likes to share her enthusiasm for her profession with her followers on Instagram and TikTok. Women in roofing are still the exception, so Luca and Chiara started to create Instagram content about her day-to-day life. They never expected that over 120,000 people would be interested in their posts. “I’ve always been on Instagram privately, and I followed a female roofer on there. She was so cool; I felt inspired,” says Chiara.

So she started filming herself at work with occasional help from her colleagues. “My smartphone photo shoots take about 15 to 30 seconds. They can’t be bothered to film for much longer than that,” she laughs. Her Instagram account shows genuine snapshots. Every now and then, she pulls her phone out to take a picture, then work continues.

The 27-year-old wants to dispel clichés. “It needs to be authentic. I don’t want people to think that I’m just posing on the roof for Insta. Whatever I’m doing in the pictures is my actual work, no matter if the camera is on or off.” Of course, she sometimes receives criticism on social media, even for trivial issues. Chiara often wonders whether her critics are really interested in the technical details of her work or whether they just struggle to accept that she’s a female roofer. Her usual response is,“Would you say this to anyone? Or does it just bother you because I’m a woman?” She also has a go-to reply for when someone genuinely doubts her competence just because of her sex. “It’s men who taught me what I’m doing.”

A future in the trade

Chiara has no doubt that roofing is the right job for her. In the late summer, she will start her training as a master craftswoman. “It’s a nine-month course preparing me for the mastership examination. Afterward, I’ll be a master roofer – well, hopefully.” Chiara has her sights set on a goal: To take over the family business with her brother, Luca. “My brother studies business administration. He’ll be in charge of the commercial and managerial aspects. I plan to stay on the roofs for as long as I can and eventually work as a site forewoman – always outdoors, of course,” Chiara explains.

She and her brother are a well-coordinated team, and Luca is optimistic that they will be able to run the company together one day. “We’re very lucky: Dad is teaching us everything slowly and giving us more and more responsibility, little by little.” Ingo Monteton is equally confident. “I’m really happy. It’s great.” He’s not worried about the changes his children will likely introduce. While he admits that it is hard to watch the company, built with his own hands nearly three decades ago, transform, he knows, “We just have to let them do their thing.” Ultimately, every step and every experience is valuable in its own way.

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