Character of the Work
The estimator's job is second to none among functional disciplines for
projects built or operated by construction management and contracting
firms. Poor estimating has led to major financial difficulties for some
of the largest companies in the world, so it can never be taken for
granted. Forecasting the cost of future action and materials is never
easy, even when projects appear fairly simple. Estimators are involved
in almost all phases of the project.
Their work is critical in both the earlier, conceptual stages and the
later, detailed stages; they also determine the costs incurred when
changes are directed after the project starts. Estimating in the
conceptual stage, before complete documentation is available, determines
if the project is feasible and establishes a budget. This requires a
better-than-average grasp of mathematical techniques. A well-disciplined
calculation methodology typifies good detailed estimating—maybe for a
firm fixed-price project, such as a general contractor might bid from
completed specifications and drawings.
In all cases, cost estimators are concerned with the amount of work and
its direct cost involving crew labor, installed equipment and materials,
and crew equipment. They also tally indirect costs, as for insurance,
office trailers, site security, and the like. As the time approaches
that bids are submitted, estimating offices can be extremely hectic and
stressful—no place for the faint of heart. In a few cases, estimators
might be asked to price the bid, that is, to “mark up” the cost estimate
and enable their firm to earn a profit; but the markup is usually
decided by executive management.
Estimators usually work in the office, but some field observation and
coordination is typically required. The best estimators can visualize
all aspects of the project’s operations. Many wise firms require their
professionals to have a year or two at field sites before they estimate
any work, in order to have experience by which to gauge how things are
done and what they should cost.
Education and Training
As with many types of jobs, estimators should feel comfortable and be
competent with mathematics. They should have the ability to understand
and communicate details, whether orally or in writing, and they should
be able to apply typical computer software. Many excellent estimators
have, at most, a junior college degree, and along with good field
experience, this is enough for a satisfying and well-paid career.
However, if the estimator wishes to advance to a management role or to
become a technical master of the discipline, then industry leaders look
for a baccalaureate degree in construction, engineering, business,
economics, or related quantitative subjects.
Proven estimators gain knowledge of many critical functions within their
companies, as well as how field operations should be conducted. This
positions the estimator for advancement into project management and
executive ranks. The estimator might, instead, further develop
estimating-related skills to become a master of the cost estimating
discipline and be called upon for the most challenging cost estimating
tasks. Either path has traditionally been very rewarding to those with
the traits and skills essential for this demanding discipline.