Cost estimators predict the expense of future projects or products and usually work in the construction or manufacturing fields, although they can be found in a wide variety of industries. In addition to monetary costs, cost estimators must take into account the duration, scope, and potential profitability of a new project or product.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that this field will grow faster than average. Industries that employ the most cost estimators are building equipment contractors, nonresidential building construction, and building exterior contractors. Industries with the highest salaries for cost estimators are natural gas distribution, business support services, and natural gas pipeline transportation.
Cost Estimator Job Responsibilities
While specific job duties will vary based on the type of project or product being estimated, most cost estimators analyze and compile data on every factor that may affect cost. Cost estimators are responsible for taking a project and breaking down all expenses including materials, labor, and other resources. Because of this, they are crucial in helping companies make correct buying and hiring decisions. They plan project budgets and even track expenses through the life of the project.
For a typical construction project, the cost estimator will review the preliminary plans and architectural drawings for the project. Then the estimator visits the site of the construction, making note of the geographical features of the site and access to infrastructure (roads, electricity, sewer, etc.). Then the estimator takes into account all the materials, personnel, and any other resources needed to complete construction. All of these details come together to make a comprehensive cost estimate for the construction project.
In manufacturing, the cost estimator is involved in planning and developing a new product or a significant enhancement to an existing product. The cost estimator will work with the product engineers, reviewing blueprints and schematic drawings. The estimator will create a list of parts, tools, or other equipment needed. The estimator will also consider whether additional human resources will be needed to finish the new product. The estimator may visit the factory floor to assess current conditions and any changes that may be needed before production.
Regardless of the field, cost estimators frequently use a variety of computer programs in performing their duties. This helps to reduce errors in their calculations, as well as making it faster and easier to produce documentation.
Cost estimators typically work in an office setting, though they may have to visit the construction site or manufacturing plant involved in the project. A 40-hour work week is standard, although overtime may be expected as deadlines near. Because of the criticality of their work to the success of the business, cost estimators often report feeling under pressure or stress.
Cost Estimator Training and Education Requirements
Cost estimators typically have at least a bachelor’s degree. At most colleges and universities, cost estimating is not a separate course of study. Instead, it is usually part of industrial or civil engineering, construction management, or construction engineering technology. Cost estimators will need to take courses in physical science, engineering, mathematics, operations research, and statistics. Additional courses in business, finance, accounting, and marketing will also be helpful.
At a minimum, persons aspiring to be cost estimators must have at least a high school diploma, with significant courses in math and science. Many cost estimators start out as lower level clerks or apprentices in the construction or manufacturing field. This experience provides industry training that enables the cost estimator to make better predictions.
Cost Estimator Salary and Wages
According to the latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income of a cost estimator is $57,300. Found predominantly in the construction and manufacturing fields, cost estimators may be found throughout a variety of industries. Cost estimators tend to be located in or near major industrial, commercial, or governmental areas. Forecasters believe this field will grow faster than average.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Cost Estimator Certifications
Although not required, employers may prefer cost estimators with certifications such as a Certified Cost Consultant, Certified Cost Engineer, or Certified Cost Technician, through the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering. These certifications help to assure hirers that the candidate is qualified, up-to-date on the latest tools and methodologies, and has significant experience in the field.
Those interested in a career in cost estimating should consider becoming certified, as this enhances their professional credibility and increases their opportunities for advancement and higher wages.
ost Estimator Professional Associations
There are a variety of associations for cost estimators. The American Society of Professional Estimators provides continuing education and networking opportunities for cost estimators in the construction industry. The National Association of Women in Construction helps promote pay equity and safety for all women in the construction workforce. The Professional Construction Estimators Association promotes continuing education and high ethical standards for construction cost-estimating professionals.