What Does an Estimator Do? (With Job Requirements)
Updated July 10, 2023
An estimator studies a project's scope, budget and plans to determine the potential project cost and requirements. They present their estimations to project managers and monitor the project's progress to track direct and indirect labor and materials costs. If you're interested in this career path, it can be helpful to learn more about what an estimator does and what the requirements for the job are.
In this article, we answer the question, "What does an estimator do?", explore the position's job requirements, skills, work environment and salary and provide a sample job description.
What does an estimator do?
Estimators collect and analyze data to estimate the money, materials, labor and time that a project requires, in addition to its associated overhead expenses. They often work at construction sites and collaborate with contractors, engineers, architects and clients. They make recommendations for how project managers can reduce costs. Estimators also maintain detailed records of both the estimated and actual costs throughout the entire project life cycle. Some of their other responsibilities might include:
Defining the scope of the project
Determining what information is necessary
Contacting suppliers and estimating costs
Analyzing and reviewing bids
Sending estimates to customers
Maintaining relationships with subcontractors and vendors
Communicating with trade partners about cost estimates and projected actual costs of projects
Estimator job requirements
There are several qualifications required to obtain a position as an estimator, including:
While some employers hire candidates who only have a high school diploma and work experience, many employers prefer to hire estimators who have a college degree. Some of the preferred majors for this profession include mathematics, civil engineering, construction science, construction management or applied science. A finance, economics or accounting degree can also be beneficial. The right education can prepare estimators for a specialized role in business information modeling (BIM), big data or visual estimating.
Estimators require the knowledge to read blueprints, understand construction concepts and use computer programs that estimate costs and labor time for each stage of a project. Try to choose a degree program that teaches these concepts, offers resources for prospective estimators and supports the development of possible careers in this field. In addition, consider a program that can provide you with some estimation training.
When you're just beginning your career, it's important to work with people who are willing to teach you the basics of the profession. You may want to apply for a job as an estimator assistant and work with someone who already has extensive experience in the field. This position allows you to work directly under the supervision of an estimator and learn more about the various tasks estimators complete on a daily basis. You might also consider completing an internship where you can job shadow an estimator and perform various estimation tasks.
Another useful way to learn how to estimate project costs is by doing it yourself for smaller projects and slowly gaining the skills required to work on larger projects. Consider applying for part-time positions with an established contractor who can teach you the right tools to use. You may be able to earn valuable referrals from satisfied customers, which can benefit you when applying for more advanced positions. Employers often prefer estimators who have a few years of direct experience.
Employers that hire estimators train staff extensively before allowing them to work independently. Training can take place in the field and in the office, and its goal is to increase your knowledge of estimating software and your understanding of construction methods and procedures while also improving your familiarity with the company's estimating system. The training you complete may depend on your prospective employer. It may take a few months to potentially a year or longer.
While estimators aren't typically required to earn a certification to qualify for an estimator position, many employers, including civil engineering firms, prefer them. Earning a certification can help you prove your expertise. Consider earning one of the following certifications:
Certified Professional Estimator
The American Society of Professional Estimators (ASPE) offers the Certified Professional Estimator (CPE) for estimators with five or more years of experience. This certification program provides instruction on estimating and bid preparation principles, equipment costs, labor productivity, unit pricing and project management. To receive the certification, the ASPE requires you to submit an application, complete an orientation workshop, pass the written exam and submit a technical paper. To renew it, the organization also requires that you volunteer your expertise by reading or grading technical papers, proctoring exams or beta-testing new exams in your area of expertise.
Certified Estimating Professional
The Association for the Advancement of Cost Estimating (AACE) International offers the Certified Estimating Professional (CEP) credential. The CEP verifies that an estimator has the vital expertise required to contribute to the valuation of projects by developing budgets and estimating resource requirements. To be eligible, candidates first earn eight years of industry-related experience or four years of experience and a four-year, industry-relevant degree. To earn the credential, AACE International requires you to complete an exam within the five-hour allotted time frame with a score of at least 70%.
Certified Cost Estimator
The International Cost Estimating and Analysis Association (ICEAA) offers the Certified Cost Estimator (CCE) certification to verify an estimator's mastery of cost-estimating analysis. The program teaches candidates how to develop and estimate costs for capital projects using current industry standards. To apply, you need at least five years of relevant cost-related experience. The ICEAA also requires you to pass a two-part exam. To retain your certification, you can either retake the exam every five years or renew it through the association's points system.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
There are many hard and soft skills necessary to succeed in the role of an estimator, including:
These include the numeracy and computer skills required to complete the tasks associated with this role. Estimators need strong math skills to calculate the labor, equipment and material costs of a construction project and estimate its total cost. It's also important to be proficient with computers and know to use software like spreadsheets and databases. Knowledge of building materials and components and the ability to read drawings, plans, specifications and blueprints is also crucial for this role.
These skills refer to a person's ability to collect and analyze information to solve problems. Estimators consider and analyze different manufacturing or construction methods to identify the most cost-effective solution. This can help them create an accurate estimate of materials and labor costs for a project. More advanced math skills, such as trigonometry and calculus knowledge, can also be important in this role, as your duties may involve estimating structural sheet metal frames for large-scale projects.
These skills include both written and verbal communication, along with active listening and the ability to recognize nonverbal cues. Cost estimators regularly communicate project expenses to both management and contractors. Excellent written communication skills enable them to create bids for projects and write comprehensive reports to help managers make decisions regarding project timelines and new production methods. Good verbal communication skills also help them share information more effectively with the sales team and with clients.
Attention to detail
Minor changes to estimates can significantly impact the overall cost of a project, especially if they're related to the cost of individual materials needed in bulk or are associated with hourly labor costs. Estimators use their attention to detail to avoid oversights or errors. This can help them ensure accuracy and better manage a project's budget. When calculating costs, having excellent attention to detail allows them to be as accurate as possible.
Read more: Attention to Detail: Definition and Examples
Time management skills
It's important for cost estimators to be able to prepare estimations on time, as they're often responsible for working on fixed deadlines. To work in the role effectively, it's necessary that you know how to manage your time effectively and work efficiently. These skills can help you adhere to the project schedule and complete your project analysis quickly, allowing the relevant parties to make more informed decisions and avoid potential delays.
Estimator work environment
Estimators often work as specialty trade contractors, although they also find employment in construction, manufacturing, automotive repair and maintenance and civil engineering companies. While estimators may visit construction sites or visit factory assembly lines as part of their work, they generally work in office environments where they may use computer software and meet with senior managers and sales teams to prepare estimates and bids. Estimators typically work 40 hours a week, but they may work longer hours to ensure the timely completion of projects.
Estimators earn a national average salary of $72,558 per year. Salaries vary according to the geographic location and experience levels of the estimator. Individuals who hold certifications may be able to negotiate higher salaries.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate’s experience, academic background and location.
Estimator job description example
Here's an example of a job description for this role:
Tanner-Boyd Construction is seeking a full-time estimator to join its team. The preferred candidate knows how to build a full conceptual cost estimate from architectural sketches and develop and implement value engineering solutions to reduce costs and maintain a high level of quality. They can also write detailed scopes of work for multiple trades and are comfortable working in a fast-paced environment with multiple deadlines and projects. The ideal candidate is comfortable working independently, has at least one year of experience estimating costs and has exceptional communication and time management skills and strong attention to detail.
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