Cost estimators typically work in the construction and manufacturing industries, gathering information on the materials and services needed for various projects and estimating expenses and profits. Business owners depend on the data and projections that cost estimators produce in order to make crucial decisions about what products they manufacture or which projects they might invest in.
A cost estimator’s specific responsibilities vary, depending upon the industry they work for. In the construction field, cost estimators determine the appropriate bid amount for a project by evaluating site plans and drawings; visiting the location; scrutinizing specifications and drainage; reviewing water and power access; and using this information to produce a detailed estimate of the materials, equipment, and labor needed to complete the project. Estimators also take into account factors like bad weather, waste, and delays, as well as subcontractors’ bids, taxes, insurance, and overhead, in order to make their final estimate. Depending on the size of the project, there may be one cost estimator or several, who specialize in specific areas. Once the project has begun, cost estimators monitor its budget, manage changes in cost, and negotiate any unforeseen expenses.
Manufacturing estimators determine what it will cost for a company to produce or re-design a product. These estimators often work with engineers, going over concepts and specifications to develop a list of materials, parts, and equipment needed and determining whether it may be less expensive to make them or buy them from an outside source. Manufacturing cost estimators then move through each phase of the development and production process, projecting a timeline necessary for development, testing, and training workers and projecting the overall cost of labor hours and materials in a per-unit dollar amount.
Cost estimation requires strong mathematical, analytical, and organizational skills; attention to detail; and a knack for communicating complex ideas to others. Additionally, cost estimators must be fluent with sophisticated software programs that help them visualize designs and compile and review financial information.
Most cost estimators work a standard 40-hour week in an office setting, with some travel to construction or manufacturing sites. Additional hours may be necessary when deadlines approach or if complications arise in a project.
Education, Training, and Essential Skills
Construction industry employers look for candidates with a bachelor’s degree in construction science, management, or building science, though many will accept a combination of experience and a lesser degree or continuing education courses. Manufacturing employers prefer to hire individuals with bachelor’s degrees in engineering, mathematics, physical science, economics, finance, accounting, or a related field. Both industries require skills in quantitative techniques, and certification may be required by some employers.
Colleges, universities, vocational programs, and professional associations all offer education and certifications for career paths in cost estimation. In associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree programs, cost estimation is usually part of the curriculum. Technical and vocational schools offer training programs in cost estimation techniques. Additionally, most employers provide on-the-job training to acquaint new hires with their particular processes.
All cost estimators require a set of skills to be successful, including familiarity with field-related software, systems, and technologies; computer fluency; the ability to work under pressure and strict deadlines; and strong analytical, mathematical, and communication skills. The ability to conceptualize cohesive projects from a set of assorted details is also an extremely valuable skill.
Advancement and Professional Development Opportunities
Cost estimators can advance through earning higher pay as their skills improve, by taking managerial positions, and by working as independent contractors.
Additional certification and professional development, available through the American Society of Professional Estimators (ASPE), the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering (AACE International), and the Society of Cost Estimating and Analysis (SCEA), can increase a cost estimator’s competitive edge for higher pay or positions.
Outlook and Income
Overall, the employment rate for cost estimators is expected to grow by 25% over the next decade, driven by a growing need for infrastructure repair and new housing and commercial construction projects. Demand will be highest for construction cost estimators with degrees in the construction and building field or significant construction experience. In the manufacturing field, individuals with cost estimation software skills and degrees in engineering, mathematics, economics, or a related field will have a competitive edge.
Annual median salaries for cost estimators are about $56,000, with the highest median at $95,000 and the lowest at $33,000. Higher salaries are associated with nonresidential building construction and building equipment contractors. Building finishing contractors; residential building construction; and foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors pay slightly lower rates.