How to Become a Construction Estimator: Everything You Need to Know

The role of a construction estimator

Construction estimating is a branch of civil engineering and is a vital part of all construction projects. A construction estimator prepares estimates for the overall cost of a proposed project. The introduction and use of construction estimating software has made the job of a construction estimator easier, quicker and more accurate.

A construction estimate includes measurements and material counts, equipment needed, construction methods and any specialty trade contractors that may be required. This data is then typically entered into estimating software so that related costs can be automatically calculated. The software can then produce quotes, purchase orders and also send requests for quotes to suppliers if required.

Construction estimators work closely with the architects, builders and construction managers to provide the needed information to determine how much construction projects will cost. Good communication skills are therefore a must.

Job Skills for a construction estimator

When people ask how to become a construction estimator, they are also asking what the job duties will be, what training requirements are needed, what is the job outlook, and which skills are required.

Below are the essential skills you will need to master as you follow your career path toward that of a cost estimator.

Essential skills

  • Time management skills
  • Strong communication skills
  • Data analysis skills
  • Strong math skills
  • Computer skills
  • Attention to detail

A constructor estimator’s daily routine

Many construction estimators spend time talking to construction management about the job before they begin. An important part of the cost estimator’s role is to assess any technical documents associated with construction projects they are assigned. These documents play a vital role in determining budget requirements.

Industry-Specific Software

Often computer-aided design or other industry-specific software is used to help estimate costs. Construction management relies on cost estimators to be detail-oriented with excellent time management skills, and software can help to quickly track the details needed to provide an accurate estimate of the overall cost, which is then presented to the customer as a quote.

Construction management

Construction estimators do not just measure and itemize material costs–though this is the bread and butter of the job. As mentioned previously, preparing estimates also include assessing technical documents and deciding on the required equipment and number of specialty contractors. Organizing permits for construction companies is also part of the estimating process.

The estimate will then be used to compile the detailed cost proposals presented in the customer quote.

On the job experience

Many construction estimators who did not complete a bachelor’s degree began their career in an entry-level position. When doing a job search, bear in mind that many employers prefer someone who wants to be part of the construction industry, has an interest in the construction field, and is prepared to work efficiently. The median salary for a trainee construction estimator will naturally be lower than someone with a degree, but according to the bureau of labor statistics, many construction estimator trainees go on to attend classes that lead to greater employment and salary growth.

What qualifications should a construction company estimator hold? 

Construction Estimator Certificate

A high school diploma can lead to a trainee role as a construction estimator if you have good mathematical and analytical skills. However, it’s important to note that many colleges offer online classes so you can train and learn while gaining on-the-job experience. The following have been recommended as the top three colleges for construction estimating certificate training.

Colleges for Construction Certification

  • Arizona State University
  • Wentworth Institute of Technology
  • Louisiana State University

You can also become a Certified Estimate Professional after you have been working on the job for several years. Both the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering (AACE) and the Society of Cost Estimating and Analysis (SCEA) offer certification for industry professionals.

The AACE requires you to have worked in the industry for at least 8 years, or 4 if you already have a college degree, and the SCEA requires 7 years on the job. Both require a passing score on a requisite exam.

Currently, the total cost of the Professional Certificate in Construction Estimating is $3,240 and can be completed in three months. Course times are scheduled around your work schedule and commitments.

There are six units altogether, with any five to be completed. The units consist of essential construction math, blueprint reading, estimating and bidding, and construction materials and processing.

Bachelor’s Degree

While on-the-job training is possible, construction companies prefer estimators with a four-year Bachelor’s Degree in Structural or Civil Engineering. Aiming towards a college degree will make you a better prospect for engineering and construction firms. According to the bureau of labor statistics, college graduates attract a higher median annual salary, and the degree path is probably the best way to become a construction estimator.

Accreditation Board accredits engineering programs for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

The tuition fees of a college degree is between $6,000 and $11,000 dollars. Extra charges are applied for housing, materials and the university fee.

What will I learn as a construction estimator?

Becoming an estimator requires a fair amount of study and training, even if you start as a trainee. Your vocational and degree course will introduce you to the skill of reading architectural plans, how to write comprehensive reports, and how to meet fixed deadlines.

Your training will teach you to understand how a design impacts material costs and labor costs. For example, if the house requires more than one level, you will need to add the cost of elevated working platforms and ticketed workers to the cost of the construction projects.

Learning how to operate computer-aided design packages and other industry-specific software will also be an element of your training.

What is expected from an estimator in the construction industry?

Construction professionals often expect their estimator to use cloud-based software for building estimates and the needed accurate project estimates to determine a project’s profitability.

As an estimator, you will build project schedules and estimate the human resources, material and labor costs required. You also will perform general field service management.

How difficult is the job of a construction estimator?

Construction estimating software

Cloud-based construction estimating software like Buildxact is designed as an all-in-one solution that can make the job of a construction estimator easier. Key features include online support, data entry, accounting features, payment processing and digital takeoff features.

Cloud-based estimating software provides an online tool that replaces time-consuming manual estimating tools.

Learning the basics of being a construction estimator

Estimators learn how to read blueprints. They will then learn how to measure and assess the site-based requirements. Consulting with other construction industry workers will help ensure the estimate is correct. For example, you will need to get a series of quotes for materials, ask about delivery prices, and inquire about different alternatives for materials that may not be available.

You will also need to get quotes for specialized machinery and equipment that may be required. Will it be more economical to rent or purchase the equipment? Will you need maintenance, fuel or a generator for the equipment? Do you need a specially trained operator? All these pieces of information make up the estimation. Estimating software is available for construction estimators to provide precise estimates for the construction companies that will eventually employ you. However, it is important to understand the formulas estimating software automatically calculates. A construction estimator should not rely on construction software alone, but simply use it as part of their collaboration tools.

Collaboration is an important part of the process for professional estimators, and the use of cloud-based software helps achieve this as the software integrates with your builder’s supplier pricing database on Microsoft Excel.  Buildxact offers this integration as you use it to generate professional proposals that include material costs, labor costs and general project costs.

What do construction estimators earn as their average salary?

The average salary for an estimator is currently $67,000 annually and can increase to up to $156,000.

Salaries vary across states and according to specific qualifications. Many employers pay widely differing rates; however, it is best to check the U.S. Bureau of Labor for Statistics on salaries before you accept a job offer. The U.S Bureau of Labor will provide guidelines on appropriate wages, average salaries and let you know how much you should be paid for the job. You can also find out the appropriate duties to ensure you are receiving the correct training before you begin your first estimating task.

Is the role of a construction estimator for me?

Construction estimators enjoy detailed processes and analysis and have sound mathematical ability. They visit construction sites and work closely with construction management teams, playing an integral part in any construction project. Job seekers who feel they fit this job description should consider becoming a construction estimator or one of the many related jobs in the construction industry.

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