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How to Become a Cost Estimator

Do you have a knack for gathering and interpreting data? Are you able to estimate construction costs? If so, you could be a good fit for a cost estimator. As a cost estimator, you would be estimating the time, money, labor, and materials needed for buildings, roads, and other projects. You will need to spend time looking over materials and staying up to date on labor costs so that you can come up with accurate estimates.

As a cost estimator, you should have strong analytical and communication skills. You will likely work with one company and estimate the costs for them full time. There may be other estimators that work with you, or you may work alone. This will be an office job, but you should have plenty of experience in construction to be successful in this position.

Sample job description

We’re seeking a professional cost estimator to work full-time at [Your Company Name]. Here at [Your Company Name], we value the highest level of productivity, communication, and efficiency. The cost estimator will be required to assess the production value of consumer goods. This position will be mostly in-office, although occasional travel to a production line or factory assembly line may be required. A bachelor’s degree will be required for this position, and previous experience in the field or similar fields is a plus. [Your Company Name] is looking for someone who is able to successfully estimate costs at a high level while taking into consideration multiple factors and processes. Communication skills are also a must, and presentation to superiors is to be expected. If this position sounds of interest, please apply!

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Collect and analyze data
  • Prepare estimates for buildings, roads, bridges, and other construction projects
  • Read blueprints and construction documents
  • Suggest ways to save money
  • Meet with clients, architects, and engineers
  • Maintain records of estimated and actual costs

Education and experience

Cost estimators need to earn a high school diploma or equivalent. Employers prefer to hire candidates with a bachelor’s degree, ideally in a field such as construction management or engineering. Companies usually provide on-the-job training in industry-specific software, such as building information modeling (BIM) and computer-aided design (CAD). 

Required skills and qualifications

  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Time-management skills and the ability to meet deadlines
  • Strong math and analytical skills to collect and interpret data
  • Ability to understand blueprints and contracts
  • Outstanding decision-making skills
  • Calm, professional demeanor
  • Keen attention to detail

Preferred qualifications

  • Four year degree in a related field
  • 2-3 years of experience in the estimating field or in a related area
  • Proficiency in computer skills including Microsoft Office suite
  • Proficient in utilizing estimating tools
  • Effective oral and written communication skills
  • Ability to work in a collaborative team environment

Typical work environment

A cost estimator’s job is to collect, categorize, and analyze data in order to determine an accurate estimate for how much time, money, and labor it will take to produce a good or provide a service. Cost estimators will oftentimes specialize in a single area of the industry, such as factory goods, services, building production, and more. Cost estimators attempt to accurately provide data on the projected cost of these services in order for businesses to better and more accurately produce new products, buildings, and provide new services without loss. Typically, a cost estimator will be required to work full-time and in an office position. Occasionally, however, this position will require the personal assessment of a facility, factory, or assembly line.

Typical hours

Cost estimators typically work regular hours in an office environment, but they also visit construction sites to meet with people and gather information. Sometimes they might need to work more than 40 hours a week.

Available certifications

Being a cost estimator will oftentimes require one or multiple of the following certificates in order to better improve chances of being hired and maintaining a position:

  • Certified Cost Professional (CCP). The certified cost professional certificate is an expert level certification that trains and assesses the efficiency of a cost estimator to ensure broad principles and total cost management are at the required skill level. This certification is an absolute must for any cost estimator who wants to increase their chance of success at both getting and excelling in a job. This certification is provided by AACE.
  • Certified Cost Estimator/Analyst (CCE/A). The Certified Cost Estimator and Analyst training and test are provided to let professionals and cost estimators certify their level of expertise through a written exam. This certificate is recognized and should be considered by any cost estimator.
  • Certified Construction Manager (CCM). Although the Certified Construction Manager program is not specifically engineered for a cost estimator, this certificate does expand on many of the common practices and methods used by a cost estimator, especially in the construction field and similar.

Career path

The first step to becoming a construction cost estimator is to earn a high school diploma or equivalent. Students then should receive a bachelor’s degree in a construction-related field. Some employers want cost estimators to have previous experience in the construction industry, but they also frequently provide hands-on training for their specific needs. The American Society of Professional Estimators offers certification.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 13-1051

2020 Employment199,400
Projected Employment in 2030200,600
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 1% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift1,200 increase

Population growth means that construction-related jobs, and cost estimators, in particular, will continue to be in demand. Maintenance, improvements, and construction of roads and bridges also will create more job opportunities. The emphasis on environmentally friendly development and energy efficiency should give the industry a boost as well.

Job prospects in the construction industry tend to ebb and flow with the economy. The Construction Management Association of America offers career coaching, a learning center, and job listings for candidates.