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Cost Estimator Job Description, Career as a Cost Estimator, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: College plus training

Salary: Median—$49,940 per year

Employment Outlook: Very good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Estimators predict the costs of future construction projects. The cost of a project is important because several contractors often submit bids or price quotes on a construction job. Usually the contractor who submits the lowest bid is asked to do the work. Without a good estimate, a contractor could either bid too high and lose a potential project or bid too low and lose money after the work is completed.

Estimators usually make several cost estimates as a bid is being prepared. After a site visit, they begin with a general figure even before the architect completes A cost estimator visits a site to gather information that will be used to produce the project estimate. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.) the drawings of the proposed project. When all the plans and details are complete, a final estimate is made.

Estimators consider many things when preparing an estimate. They take into account previous projects that are similar; access to the site; availability of water, electricity, and other services; the costs and quantities of almost every material to be used; whether special machinery will be needed; and the productivity and pay of the various workers involved. After these and other details have been added together, estimators add a certain amount to cover unforeseen or emergency expenses, overhead, and a percentage of the total to make a profit.

Estimators have a very important job. Once a bid or price quote is submitted and accepted, a contractor must build the project for that set amount. If the contractor spends more than was estimated, he loses money or does not make a profit. On the other hand, if the estimate is originally too high, the contractor may not be awarded the job. In many cases, the success or failure of the contractor depends on the estimator.

Education and Training Requirements

Many construction companies prefer to hire applicants with college degrees in building construction, building science, construction management, architecture, or engineering. Most estimators also have considerable construction experience, which gives them a thorough knowledge of the various building trades and the different stages of construction. Many future estimators develop that knowledge through summer work at a construction site. Because of the mathematical calculations that are involved, much of an estimator's work is done by computer, so some knowledge of computers is essential.

At the very least, individuals who want to become estimators need a high school education with courses in mathematics and accounting. Courses in plan reading, drafting, mechanical drawing, and shop may also be helpful. If available, a program in business mathematics or business management is recommended.

Many estimators begin in trainee positions in a contractor's office. As trainees, they may help the people involved in drafting, designing, engineering, purchasing, managing, and other areas of the business. With experience—and possibly more education—they may advance to junior estimator.

Getting the Job

Although there are some firms that do nothing but estimating, most construction companies and many architects rely on someone within their own organization to handle this job. Large firms may have a staff that does nothing but estimating. Smaller companies usually have someone who does the estimating in addition to another job.

Local contractors are good sources for jobs. They will be listed in the Yellow Pages under "Construction Estimates," "Building Contractors," "Contractors—General," and similar headings. State employment agencies, Internet job banks, and newspaper classifieds are other sources for job information.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

For some estimators, advancement amounts to a better job with a better company. Other qualified estimators advance to become construction managers, engineers, or even a partner in a firm. Others may go into business for themselves, offering their services as consultants. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that overall employment of cost estimators is expected to grow faster than the average through the year 2014. The number of estimator jobs available is somewhat linked to the growth of the construction industry. However, even when construction and manufacturing activity decline, there should still be a demand for cost estimators.

Working Conditions

Estimators do most of their work indoors. They usually have offices where their technical manuals, catalogs, computers, and other necessary materials are close at hand. The job usually does not require a great deal of physical exertion. Estimators should be well-organized people who enjoy technical work.

Estimators normally work a forty-hour week. However, they may have to work nights and weekends to meet a deadline. In many cases employees are paid extra or given time off to compensate for overtime work.

Where to Go for More Information

American Society of Professional Estimators
675 S. Washington St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
(877) 273-5679

National Association of Women in Construction
327 S. Adams St.
Fort Worth, TX 76104-1002
(800) 552-3506

Professional Construction Estimators Association
PO Box 680336
Charlotte, NC 28216
(704) 987-9978

Earnings and Benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a cost estimator in 2004 was $49,940. Depending on the type of construction, median annual earnings for construction estimators in 2004 ranged from $47,980 to $56,570. About 10 percent of construction estimators earned less that $30,000 per year. College graduates with degrees in engineering or construction management earned the most. The size of the firm and the area of the country were important factors as well. Many companies provide benefits, such as life and health insurance, retirement plans, and paid vacations.

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