“Cost estimator” is a term used across industries, however, those who become proficient in a certain area may be referred to by their specialty, such as construction cost estimator, engineering cost estimator, building construction estimator, etc.
A cost estimator gathers data to determine how much money, time, material, and labor are required to manufacture a product, provide a service, or construct a building. Cost estimators often develop a professional expertise in a specialized field, product, or industry.
- Helping an organization save money and make good financial decisions.
- Working as a team with other professionals to accomplish a goal.
- Using the latest technologies and having new projects to work on.
- Realizing the important role one plays in the building of structures like stadiums, airports, train stations, theaters, or hotels that people use every day.
- Being recognized as an expert in a specific area of knowledge that is valuable to others.
Median salaries for cost estimators by industry:
|Heavy and civil engineering construction||$75,890|
|Construction of buildings||$69,240|
|Specialty trade contractors||$65,650|
|Automotive repair and maintenance||$57,780|
Generally speaking, there are two types of cost estimators:
- Construction Cost Estimators assess construction costs for projects like bridges, shopping centers, or high-rise apartments. They determine the price of raw materials, the cost of labor, and how long it will take to complete a project.
- Manufacturing Cost Estimators assess the costs associated with producing, redesigning, or developing various products and services like vehicles, software systems, and appliances.
A day in the life of a cost estimator would include working in an office but also visiting job sites or factories depending on the nature of the job. They work closely with engineers, architects, contractors, construction managers, clients, and industry experts to complete projects.
Cost estimators often perform the following tasks:
- Reading blueprints or technical documents.
- Evaluating materials required and labor needed for projects.
- Preparing bids and writing proposals for clients.
- Making recommendations on how to make projects more cost effective.
- Preparing timelines for projects to be completed.
- Determining the cost effectiveness or profitability of products.
- Organizing information and documenting the details of a project.
- Handling subcontractor proposals and assisting with contract negotiations.
- Analytical skills
- Listening and communication skills
- Detail oriented
- Aptitude for math
- Time management skills
- Accounting software
- Analytical or scientific software
- Database user interface and query software
- Financial analysis software
- Project management software
- Building information modeling (BIM)
- Computer aided design (CAD)
- Specialty trade contractors
- Construction of buildings
- Automotive repair and maintenance
- Heavy and civil engineering construction
Successful cost estimators have a substantial amount of knowledge and experience in their specific area of expertise, which comes from formal education plus extensive hands-on learning. A dedication to learning one’s craft is essential to be competitive in this field.
Also, it may be necessary at times to work beyond a typical forty-hour work week to write bids, keep a project on task, and meet deadlines.
- Advancements in BIM (Building Information Modeling)
- Model-based estimations
- Virtual reality
- Computational and generative design
People in this profession have a natural inclination toward data and details. As young people, they often enjoyed mapping out projects and seeing them through. They work well in teams and can help lead a group to a decision. Their “comfort zone” has routine and procedure.
- While some cost estimators enter the field without a college degree if they have significant background and experience in a related field, most employers prefer to hire cost estimators who have a bachelor’s degree.
- Construction Cost Estimators often earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering, construction management, building science, business, accounting, or finance.
- Manufacturing Cost Estimators often earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering, mathematics, statistics, physical sciences, business, accounting, or finance.
- Training in building information modeling (BIM) and computer-aided design (CAD) software is also common. Additional experience with industry-specific software may be necessary as well.
- Many of the skills that cost estimators have are developed on the job once they have been hired.
- It can be advantageous to have a background that relates to this industry, for example as an electrician or plumber, to be competitive in this field.
Academically, students interested in this profession should take classes in:
Because it is so important to be an effective communicator as a cost estimator, classes in English and writing can also be very helpful. Joining activities that require working with a team to plan projects and solve problems together is also great experience to acquire as a student. Learning to hone these skills will be valuable when working as a future cost estimator.
- Enter the profession after earning a bachelor’s degree in a major suitable to either construction cost estimating or manufacturing cost estimating.
- It is also possible to enter the workforce without a degree by having extensive background and hands on experience in a related field - as a contractor, electrician, or plumber for example.
- Search for trade organization and industry events happening in your area where you can meet potential employers and make connections in your field.
- Increase your desirability to hiring managers by obtaining certifications in your areas of interest.
- American Society of Professional Estimators (ASPE)
- Association for the Advancement of Cost Estimating International (AACE)
- International Cost Estimating and Analysis Association (ICEAA).
- *All of these organizations offer certification opportunities.
- ICEAA Magazine
- Estimating Today Magazine
Because cost estimators develop many types of transferable skills, there are several different career paths they can take, such as:
- Accountant and Auditor
- Budget Analyst
- Claims Adjuster, Appraiser, Examiner, and Investigator
- Construction Manager
- Financial Analyst and Financial Manager
- Industrial Production Manager
- Operations Research Analyst
- Purchasing Agent
- Market Research Analyst and Marketing Specialist
- Risk Management Specialist
- Supply Chain Managers
- Transportation Managers
All types of organizations, large and small, look for ways to control cost while delivering the best possible product or service. A cost estimator plays a key role in the profitability of a company, making their position essential to its success. Finding a professional niche that aligns with your interests and developing an expertise in that area can make for a career that is both personally and financially rewarding.