Cost Estimator Career Overview

Published August 31, 2022 | Amy Boyington

Cost Estimator Career Overview

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Construction and engineering projects require in-depth planning. Cost estimators play a pivotal role in ensuring that a project's budget can accommodate its projected costs. They research and analyze financial data and time projections to determine project costs.

These professionals typically work in the construction, technology, and manufacturing industries. According to Zippia data from April 2022, these industries combined employ 40% of cost estimators. Some cost estimators are employed with one large organization, while others work as contractors for multiple companies as needed.

Usually, a cost estimator holds a bachelor's degree in construction or engineering. However, some companies prefer candidates with certification, like the certified cost estimator/analyst (CCEA) credential.

Continue reading to learn more about the cost estimator career, including salary figures, employment outlook data, and locations where cost estimators are in demand.

What Does a Cost Estimator Do?

Companies hire or contract these professionals to provide detailed estimates of project costs. Their reports allow organizations to budget for projects or make necessary changes to accommodate their finances or labor needs.

Cost estimators research and analyze data to determine how much time and money a project may require. They consider finances for labor, material, and permits, along with budgeting for completion timelines.

Cost estimators interact with project managers, material vendors, and financial managers to determine project details, material costs, and budgeting constraints. The data that cost estimators use can change frequently. Therefore, these professionals must research, analyze, and interpret data quickly to provide timely estimates.

A Day in the Life of a Cost Estimator

Planning, estimating, and managing projects generally make up a cost estimator's workday. They typically begin with checking and sending emails or making phone calls to clients regarding their estimates. Cost estimators may also review and finalize in-progress estimates to prepare them for delivery.

These professionals review new orders, analyze project blueprints, and simulate construction projects to plan new estimates. They may also contact supply vendors, local construction companies, and regulatory agencies. Researching and bidding on projects keeps a steady flow of work in the pipelines.

Key Soft Skills for a Cost Estimator

  • Time Management: These professionals must effectively research, plan, and finish estimates on time. They juggle multiple projects simultaneously, making efficiency key.
  • Detail-Oriented: Construction and engineering projects require detailed estimates for companies to stay within budgets. A detail-oriented cost estimator includes each crucial detail in their estimates for companies to make sound financial decisions.
  • Communication: Estimators communicate with multiple people each day, including clients, vendors, and project managers. Oral and written communication skills allow them to exchange ideas effectively through phone, email, video, and face-to-face conversations.
  • Problem-Solving: A finance cost estimator career includes many moving parts. Cost estimators can solve complex material shortages, labor issues, and budgeting problems to keep projects moving.

Key Hard Skills for a Cost Estimator

  • Architectural Design: Cost estimators work with design teams to understand a project's scope. Architectural skills allow them to accurately estimate the amount of materials and labor needed to complete each project.
  • Project Management: Project management abilities help cost estimators juggle tasks like bidding on projects and negotiating with suppliers. While they also work with project managers, they essentially take preliminary charge of projects to pursue accurate estimates.
  • Computer Software: Cost estimators use computers to draw and analyze data, create financial models, and draft estimates. They may also put together digital presentations to explain their estimates in detail to project managers.
  • Data Analysis and Modeling: Cost estimators use data analysis skills to understand a project's details and appraise projected expenses for materials and labor. They also check financial databases and industry trends to create estimates.

How to Become a Cost Estimator

The typical educational pathway for a cost estimator starts with a bachelor's degree. Students usually pursue degrees in construction, engineering, or other similar fields. These degrees traditionally take four years to complete.

Cost estimators may pursue further education to broaden their prospects and enhance their skills. A CCEA certification or finance MBA could also lead to higher salary potential and advancement opportunities.

An MBA in finance for a cost estimator takes an additional 1-2 years. Other potential MBA concentrations for this career include engineering management, construction management, or design thinking and innovation.

Practical experience is key in this profession. Some organizations provide on-the-job training for cost estimators to learn computer tools, analytics and reporting processes, and other company-specific elements of their jobs.

Cost Estimator Salary and Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median 2021 annual salary of $65,170 for the cost estimator career. It also projects a 1% job growth rate from 2020-2030. The potential lag in growth could be due to increased productivity for these professionals, resulting in slightly lower demand for more workers.

Education and work experience could lead to advancements and higher salaries with roles like senior cost manager or construction lead estimator.

Additionally, some industries have higher demand and salaries than others. For instance, BLS data indicates that nonresidential building construction pays about $20,000 more annually, on average, than the median salary for cost estimators. However, building equipment contracting employs the highest number of estimators.

Where Can I Work as a Cost Estimator?

Cost estimating professionals typically find employment with construction or engineering firms. They can also work as independent contractors for multiple organizations. According to the BLS, building equipment contracting and nonresidential building construction are the top-employing industries for these professionals.

The cost estimator career is available across the United States. However, these professionals tend to be more in demand in states with a significant need for construction laborers to complete projects, like California and Texas.

Additionally, metropolitan areas could offer more job and salary opportunities than rural areas. For example, the New York-Newark-Jersey City and Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metropolitan areas each employ over 9,000 estimators each year. They also pay more than the median pay for cost estimators.

Top Locations for Cost Estimators

Your location may also influence available job and salary opportunities. Some states, like Massachusetts and Hawaii, pay significantly higher average wages for cost estimators than others. BLS data shows that Oklahoma pays an average of $59,860 each year, while cost estimators earn nearly $42,000 more per year in Massachusetts.

Similarly, some states have a much higher demand for these professionals than others. According to BLS May 2021 data, California and Texas employ the highest number of cost estimators in the country. Meanwhile, Vermont and Wyoming each employ fewer than 400 professional estimators.

Resources for Cost Estimators

The following list includes professional organizations that cost estimators can join to improve their skills, network within the industry, and increase their job opportunities.

Professional Organizations

ASPE connects all types of professional estimators with networking and professional development resources. Students and workers can become members to access mentoring, exclusive content, and special discounts.

Although relatively new, the ICEAA has more than 20 chapters within the United States and affiliates in four countries. ICEAA offers certifications for apprentices and professionals to demonstrate their expertise.

AACEI is a certification and membership organization. Membership offers virtual and in-person training, certification discounts, and career development opportunities. AACEI also hosts an annual convention for networking and learning.

Common Questions about Cost Estimators

Are cost estimators in demand?

The BLS projects a 1% growth in the demand for cost estimators from 2020-2030. Construction and engineering industries will continue to need these professionals for precise estimations to complete projects within budget constraints. Some states, like California and Texas, employ significantly more cost estimators than others.

Is a cost estimator a good job?

A cost estimator career can lead to advancement opportunities and high salaries. On average, with 10-19 years of experience, these professionals earn nearly $9,000 more than they would with 1-4 years of experience, according to Payscale's August 2022 data. Cost estimators may also move into roles as senior cost managers or construction lead estimators.

What does a cost estimator do?

A cost estimator researches and analyzes data to create and modify accurate pricing estimates for construction and engineering projects. They consider labor costs, project length, and material costs in their estimates.

Why do we need cost estimation?

Cost estimates help organizations budget for construction and engineering projects. They also ensure that companies have enough time and staffing resources to complete a project.


Featured Image: alvaro gonzalez / Moment / Getty Images

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