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What Cost Estimators Do About this section

Cost estimators
Cost estimators often collaborate with engineers.

Cost estimators collect and analyze data in order to estimate the time, money, materials, and labor required to manufacture a product, construct a building, or provide a service. They generally specialize in a particular product or industry.

Duties

Cost estimators typically do the following:

  • Identify factors affecting costs, such as production time, materials, and labor
  • Read blueprints and technical documents in order to prepare estimates
  • Collaborate with engineers, architects, clients, and contractors
  • Calculate, analyze, and adjust estimates
  • Recommend ways to reduce costs
  • Work with sales teams to prepare estimates and bids for clients
  • Maintain records of estimated and actual costs

Accurately estimating the costs of construction and manufacturing projects is vital to the survival of businesses. Cost estimators provide managers with the information they need in order to submit competitive contract bids or price products appropriately.

Estimators analyze production processes to determine how much time, money, and labor a project needs. Their estimates account for many factors, including allowances for wasted material, bad weather, shipping delays, and other variables that can increase costs and lower profits.

In building construction, cost estimators use software to simulate the construction process and evaluate the costs of design choices. They often consult databases and their own records to compare the costs of similar projects.

The following are examples of types of cost estimators:

Construction cost estimators prepare estimates for buildings, roads, and other construction projects. They may calculate the total cost of building a bridge or commercial shopping center, or they may calculate the cost of just one component, such as the foundation. They identify costs of elements such as raw materials and labor, and they may set a timeline for how long they expect the project to take. Although many work directly for construction firms, some work for contractors and engineering firms.

Manufacturing cost estimators calculate the costs of developing, producing, or redesigning a company’s goods or services. For example, a cost estimator working for a home appliance manufacturer may determine a new dishwasher’s production costs, allowing managers to make production decisions.

Other workers, such as operations research analysts and construction managers, may also estimate costs in the course of their usual duties.

Work Environment About this section

Cost estimators
Cost estimators may visit construction sites to gather information.

Cost estimators held about 214,200 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of cost estimators were as follows:

Specialty trade contractors 36%
Construction of buildings 17
Manufacturing 13
Automotive repair and maintenance 7
Heavy and civil engineering construction 6

Cost estimators work mostly in offices, and some estimators visit construction sites and factory assembly lines during the course of their work.

Work Schedules

Most cost estimators work full time and some work more than 40 hours per week.

How to Become a Cost Estimator About this section

Cost estimators
Cost estimators learn to use specialized cost estimating software.

Most cost estimators need a bachelor’s degree, although some workers with several years of experience in construction may qualify without a bachelor’s degree.

Education

Employers generally prefer candidates who have a bachelor’s degree.

Construction cost estimators typically need a bachelor’s degree in an industry-related field, such as construction management or engineering. Manufacturing cost estimators typically need a bachelor’s degree in engineering, business, or finance.

Training

Most cost estimators receive on-the-job training, which may include instruction in cost estimation techniques and software, as well as industry-specific software, such as building information modeling (BIM) and computer-aided design (CAD) software.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Some employers prefer that construction cost estimators, particularly those without a bachelor’s degree, have previous work experience in the construction industry. Some construction cost estimators become qualified solely through extensive work experience.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Cost estimators consider and evaluate different construction and manufacturing methods and options to determine the most cost-effective solution that meets the required specifications.

Communication skills. Cost estimators write comprehensive reports, which often help managers make production decisions.

Detail oriented. Cost estimators must pay attention to details because minor changes can greatly affect the overall cost of a project or product.

Math skills. Cost estimators calculate labor, material, and equipment cost estimates for construction projects. They use software, such as spreadsheets and databases, and they need excellent math skills to calculate these estimates accurately.

Time-management skills. Cost estimators often work on fixed deadlines, so they must plan in advance and work efficiently.

Pay About this section

Cost Estimators

Median annual wages, May 2019

Business operations specialists

$68,730

Cost estimators

$65,250

Total, all occupations

$39,810

 

The median annual wage for cost estimators was $65,250 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,380, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $111,350.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for cost estimators in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Heavy and civil engineering construction $75,890
Construction of buildings 69,240
Specialty trade contractors 65,650
Manufacturing 62,630
Automotive repair and maintenance 57,780

Most cost estimators work full time and some work more than 40 hours per week.

Job Outlook About this section

Cost Estimators

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Business operations specialists

6%

Total, all occupations

4%

Cost estimators

-1%

 

Employment of cost estimators is projected to decline 1 percent from 2019 to 2029.

Cost estimation software is improving the productivity of these workers, requiring fewer estimators to perform the same amount of work. This will reduce employment demand and lead to job losses for these workers.

However, technology will not eliminate this work entirely, and there will continue to be some demand for cost estimators because companies need accurate cost projections to ensure that their products and services are profitable.

Job Prospects

Despite a projected employment decline, about 17,500 openings for cost estimators are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

These openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Knowledge of building information modeling (BIM) and computer-aided design (CAD) software may improve job prospects, especially for those seeking employment in construction.

Jobs of cost estimators working in construction, like those of workers in many other trades in the construction industry, are sensitive to changing economic conditions.

Employment projections data for cost estimators, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Cost estimators

13-1051 214,200 211,000 -1 -3,200 Get data

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