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Cost Estimator

Job Outlook: 9% (Faster than average)

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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 assess 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 cut 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 to price products appropriately.

Estimators analyze production processes to determine how much time, money, and labor a project needs. Their estimates account for many things, 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 price of design choices. They often check 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 building, road, and other construction projects. They may calculate the total cost of constructing a bridge or commercial shopping center, or they may calculate the cost of just one part, 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 expense of developing, producing, or redesigning a company’s goods or services. For example, an estimator working for a home appliance manufacturer may determine a new dishwasher’s production costs, aiding managers in making decisions about its assembly.

Other workers, such as operations research analysts and construction managers, also may 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 212,100 jobs in 2021. 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 5

Cost estimators work mostly in office settings, 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.

Cost estimators typically need a bachelor’s degree to enter the occupation, although workers with several years of experience in construction sometimes qualify in that industry without a degree.

Education

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

Construction cost estimators typically need a bachelor's degree in a related field, such as construction or engineering. Manufacturing cost estimators typically need a degree in business or finance.

Training

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

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

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

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Cost estimators must review and evaluate different construction and manufacturing methods to find cost-effective options.

Detail oriented. Cost estimators must be precise, because minor changes may greatly affect the overall expense of a project or product.

Math skills. Cost estimators need excellent math skills to calculate labor, material, and equipment estimates for construction projects.

Time-management skills. Cost estimators must plan in advance and work efficiently to meet their deadlines.

Writing skills. Cost estimators must have excellent writing skills to prepare comprehensive reports, which often help managers make production decisions.

Pay About this section

Cost Estimators

Median annual wages, May 2021

Business operations specialists

$76,040

Cost estimators

$65,170

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for cost estimators was $65,170 in May 2021. 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 $38,880, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $115,690.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for cost estimators in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Heavy and civil engineering construction $80,510
Construction of buildings 76,450
Specialty trade contractors 69,200
Manufacturing 62,570
Automotive repair and maintenance 60,420

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 2021-31

Business operations specialists

8%

Total, all occupations

5%

Cost estimators

-2%

 

Employment of cost estimators is projected to decline 2 percent from 2021 to 2031.

Despite declining employment, about 18,500 openings for cost estimators are projected each year, on average, over the decade. All of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Cost estimation software is improving the productivity of these workers, requiring fewer estimators to do the same amount of work. This will limit employment growth of cost estimators.

However, there will continue to be some demand for these workers because companies need accurate cost projections to ensure that their products and services are profitable.

Employment projections data for cost estimators, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Cost estimators

13-1051 212,100 207,700 -2 -4,400 Get data

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