Whether they are involved in manufacturing, construction or software development, companies must price their products and services correctly. In order to sustain operations, they need to compete with others in their market while also making a profit. Cost estimators fulfill this role by analyzing data, estimating the required resources, and preparing estimates for internal and external clients.
These professionals are often employed by construction companies, manufacturing firms and government agencies.
Cost estimators are responsible for identifying and analyzing cost factors related to construction projects or the manufacturing of goods. Using input such as production time, raw material needs, and equipment and labor expenses, they can estimate a project’s profit margin. Cost estimators often consider a number of scenarios, taking into account factors such as waste, weather and transportation. They use sophisticated software to calculate estimates.
When making short- and long-term business plans, company managers, investors and other stakeholders depend on cost estimators to accurately predict expenses associated with construction and manufacturing.
Some cost estimators specialize in construction, including buildings and roads. They may work for engineering, architectural or construction firms. Other cost estimators work in manufacturing, estimating the cost of producing goods and services.
Regardless of their specialization, cost estimators’ typical duties include:
- Identifying and quantifying cost factors, such as time, materials and expenses
- Reading blueprints and technical documents
- Evaluating the profitability and viability of a product or service
- Recommending cost-cutting methods to increase profitability
- Using computer software to prepare estimates and supporting documentation
- Participate in proposal preparation and client presentations
- Evaluate contingency requirements using risk analysis software
- Communicate with other departments, engineers and project managers to resolve issues
Cost Estimator Job Outlook and Salary Range
The job outlook for cost estimators is promising, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting nationwide employment growth of 9% through 2024, more than twice the average rate for all occupations.
Demand is expected to remain strong as companies seek more accurate cost projections and ways to save on products and services. In addition, construction and repair of roads, bridges and other infrastructure is expected to drive demand for qualified cost estimators. The BLS forecasts that job prospects will be more robust for candidates who have a bachelor’s degree and related work experience.
As of May 2016, cost estimators earned a median annual wage of $61,790, with the top 10% earning more than $103,250, according to the BLS.
Work experience, educational qualifications and regional market conditions play a role in determining job opportunities and salary potential.
Education and Training for Cost Estimators
Increasingly, a bachelor’s degree is becoming a required qualification for employment as a cost estimator. The BLS reports that many employers prefer candidates with degrees in construction management, engineering, mathematics, statistics or building science. Some employers also seek a strong background in business, finance and economics, along with knowledge of cost estimation software.
Cost estimating requires analytical, critical-thinking and technical skills, as well as the ability to work under strict deadlines.
Earning professional certifications – such as those offered by the American Society of Professional Estimators, AACE International and the Society of Cost Estimating and Analysis – can help cost estimators secure career advancement.
A common introduction to the cost estimator profession is an assistant position, training under the direction of an experienced estimator. Industry experience can be obtained through internships or cooperative education programs while completing a degree.
Military Occupational Specializations
A number of military occupational roles incorporate duties and skills that may equate to those required of cost estimators in the civilian workplace:
- Marine Corps roles include financial management officer.
- In the Army, roles include financial manager.
- Air Force roles include cost analysis officer and financial management comptroller.
- In the Navy, roles include business management, and finance and accounting.