Cost estimators pay close attention to the bottom line. And they’re in demand as construction companies increasingly rely on them to correctly predict project success.
Construction cost estimators carefully predict architectural, structural and services costs.
George C. Evans is the vice-president of an organization for cost estimators. He says the need for construction estimators is growing as the construction market expands.
“We have a shortage now and it is getting worse,” he says.
“Many of the large construction companies are struggling to acquire and retain their senior people. The junior positions are subject to even more migration as employees try to take advantage of the ‘hot’ market and move up in the industry.”
Construction estimator Brad Nikkel says the construction boom in his area is keeping him busy. “As long as the economy stays healthy, there will be jobs in this field,” he says.
Estimator Richard Ullrich agrees that job prospects are good. “Good estimators are always hard to find.”
As with any business, estimating costs accurately in this field is crucial. Construction cost estimators research the information required by the company in order to decide how to bid profitably on a project.
“The construction industry is more profit-oriented than most industries,” says Evans. “When cost is the primary issue, the people monitoring the cost are the most important people.”
Estimators must take into account the amount and price of labor, location challenges, materials and equipment, taxes, insurance and inflation. They also look at weather and other factors that may affect cost. Technology costs, including computer programming and software, must also be considered.
Estimators gather this information and prepare a cost analysis.
People in this field could work for architects or construction owners. If the company is big enough, estimators might specialize in a certain area, such as framing or excavation work.
According to Occupational Outlook Handbook, more than half of the cost estimators in the U.S. work in the construction industry. The field is expected to grow faster than average through 2016.
You’ll need solid technical skills to get into the field. “Finding candidates with a variety of computer cost estimating experience is difficult,” says estimator Connie Gowder.
“Knowledge of these programs affects hireability,” she says.
According to Nikkel, many estimators draw from a national database for information such as how long it should take a tradesperson to complete a certain task. “This used to be drawn from books and calculations done on sheets.”
Evans notes that computers have increased productivity but haven’t adversely affected job prospects.
“In our office, we have been able to double the volume of work produced as far as measurement goes. However, the real expertise of the profession is pricing. Several of the software systems available have pricing databases included that ‘automatically’ price.
“This is fine for checks and balances, but unless you have people dedicated to nothing but data management, the systems are not current enough to be truly accurate,” he says.
Ullrich agrees. “Keep in mind [that] computers are only a tool and can never price productivity correctly.”
Prospective estimators will likely need a college education.
“Training means going to college — at least four years in a construction management or like program,” says Gowder. “It’s rare to find an estimator without college experience.”
In the U.S., the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering offers certification for estimators. You need four years of industry experience before you can take the exams to become a Certified Cost Consultant (CCC). It takes another four years of experience to become a Certified Cost Engineer (CCE).
Overall, those in the industry see plenty of opportunities for construction cost estimators.
“The prospects are good. If you have a good attitude and some common sense, you can get far in your career as a construction estimator,” says Ullrich.
American Society of Professional Estimators
Read what it has to say about estimating careers
Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering
Offers information on certification for cost estimators around the globe
Society of Cost Estimating and Analysis
Dedicated to promoting the industry