Cost Estimator

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

What is this job like?

Cost estimators figure out how much a project or product will cost. This helps business owners and managers decide whether to build a structure or manufacture a product. If a business doesn't think it can make enough money, it will not do it. Cost estimators also find out which jobs are making a profit. The exact method of figuring out the cost varies, depending on the industry in which you work.

They study information on all of the things that can change the cost of a project. This includes supplies, labor, location, and special equipment, like computer hardware and software.

In construction, they look at drawings and visit the site of the project. They determine the amount of materials and labor the firm will need. They also consider the costs of things like unused materials, delays due to bad weather, and shipping delays. They tell the architect, construction manager, or owner if they think the project will be profitable or not, and write their findings in a detailed report. In large companies, they may specialize. For example, one may estimate only electrical work and another may focus on concrete.

In manufacturing and other firms, they are assigned to the engineering, cost, or pricing departments. They estimate the cost of making products, including materials and labor. They make a list of parts to see if it is better to make or purchase the parts. The cost of computer software development is one of the fastest growing and hardest to estimate. Some specialize in this.

Estimators use computers a lot to do all of the necessary paperwork. This allows them more time to study and analyze potential projects or products.

They spend most of their time in an office. However, construction estimators visit project worksites. They can be dusty, dirty, and sometimes unsafe. In manufacturing, they spend time on the factory floor. It can be noisy and dirty.

Estimators sometimes work extra hours. They work under pressure because if they make a mistake, their firm can lose a lot of money.

How do you get ready?

How to prepare for this occupation depends on the industry in which you want to work in. In construction, employers want people with a college degree in building construction, construction management or science, engineering, or architecture. In manufacturing, employers prefer to hire individuals with a degree in engineering, physical science, operations research, mathematics, or statistics. They can also have a degree in accounting, finance, business, economics, or a related subject.

Math and computer skills are very important. Strong communication and analytical skills are also important. Cost estimators must present their estimates to supervisors and others.

They need training on the job because every company has its own way of handling estimates. During training, cost estimators usually work with an experienced inspector. After years of experience, some move into management positions, while others may go into business for themselves as consultants. They get paid to provide estimates to government or to construction or manufacturing firms.

Source: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
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