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How to Become a Cost Estimator

Career News August 23, 2013

Cost estimating is one of the most rapidly growing fields in an atmosphere where business investment is on the rise, with construction companies placing their bids for projects that need a realistic estimation of the total cost. The demand for cost estimators is expected to grow by 36% before the year 2020, making it the fastest growing of all occupational jobs.

What College Degree is Expected?

Your education must be completed to become a cost estimator. Most companies require a Bachelor’s Degree in Construction management or a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering, Statistics or Physical Sciences, if you choose to go into manufacturing. However, some companies will hire someone who already has a great deal of experience in construction and strong analytical skills. Whichever way you go into your career as a cost estimator, either a strong background in post-education is required (available from schools such as UMD), or plenty of work experience.

A cost estimator is expected to collect and analyze all data related to construction costs. The estimates must include variables such as the location, labor, materials and time frame for getting the job done. They often make recommendations on the types of materials, equipment, and the number of employees needed to complete the task within the estimated deadline, and help the company determine whether or not the project would be profitable. While small companies will often put in their bids for a job without consulting an estimator first, larger companies employ a cost estimator before bidding on a project.

Math skills are essential for a cost estimator, with a strong focus on trigonometry. An estimator needs to be able to see the big picture, as well as have the ability to notice small details. Cost estimators have knowledge of construction materials, design, mechanics, contracts and management, which all contribute to the estimating and bidding function.

Typical cost estimating courses cover basic theory and practices such as proposal solicitation and preparation, estimate types, bidding strategies and computer skills, especially 3-D modeling. As the student advances, course work disciplines involve error correction, risk adjustments, productivity accounting, pricing techniques and mark-ups. The student should have a competitive spirit and a willingness to continuously learn and improve on existing skills.

Details on the Cost Estimator Career

Most companies provide internships or part-time jobs as part of the student’s activities. On-the-job training allows students to work with an experienced cost estimator and gain practical experience. The methods for determining costs vary from industry to industry and are highly dependent on the company’s policies.

A career as a job estimator has a global outlook as many companies branch out into overseas jobs, where the potential for development has been largely unexplored, with many of the emerging countries interested in new technologies and renewable resources. The student who has chosen a career in cost estimating must have an eye for the future and an understanding of changing economies.

The pay rate for cost estimators is extremely good. Within the first year, a college graduate can expect to land a job with an average salary of $38,000 a year. Those with up to four years of experience can expect to make up to $54,000 a year.

It often feels like a thankless job as a cost estimator is in the background of the company’s dealings, but the work is rewarding for those who take pleasure in challenges and opportunities. The job may often require travel to new work sites, which only add to the attractiveness of a cost estimator who also loves the feeling of entrepreneurship and adventure.

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Quick Fact
In 2017, workers with a bachelor's degree or higher had almost twice as much
median earnings per week than workers with only a high school diploma*.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics

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