Cost Estimators

Career, Salary and Education Information

Top 3 cost estimator Jobs

  • Cost Estimator - N.S. International - Troy, MI

    N.S. International, Ltd. ("NSI"), a group company of Nippon Seiki, located in Troy, MI, is a tier one supplier of instrument clusters and head-up

  • Facilities Engineer - National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) - Green Bank, WV

    Estimates costs related to layout design, including equipment and materials, labor

  • Metal Technician - Penske Motor Group - El Monte, CA

    Removes damaged sections of vehicles for replacement by using metal-cutting guns, air grinders and wrenches, and installs

See all cost estimator jobs

What Cost Estimators Do[About this section] [To Top]

Cost estimators collect and analyze data in order to estimate 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 of Cost Estimators

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 reduce 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 price products appropriately.

Estimators analyze production processes to determine how much time, money, and labor a project needs. Their estimates account for many factors, including allowances for wasted material, bad weather, shipping delays, and other variables that can increase costs and lower profitability.

In building construction, cost estimators use software to simulate the construction process and evaluate the effects of design choices. They often consult databases to compare the costs of similar projects.

The following are examples of types of cost estimators:

Construction cost estimators prepare estimates for a building project. They may calculate the total cost of building a bridge or commercial shopping center, or they may calculate the cost of just one component, 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 costs of developing, producing, or redesigning a company’s goods or services. For example, a cost estimator working for a home appliance manufacturer may determine a new dishwasher’s production costs, allowing managers to make production decisions.

Some manufacturing cost estimators work in software development. Many high-technology products require a considerable amount of computer programming, and calculating the costs of software development requires great expertise.

Other workers, such as operations research analysts and construction managers, may also estimate costs in the course of their usual duties.

Work Environment for Cost Estimators[About this section] [To Top]

Cost estimators hold about 213,500 jobs. The industries that employ the most cost estimators are as follows:

Construction of buildings 17%
Building equipment contractors 16
Manufacturing 13
Building finishing contractors 8

Cost estimators work mostly in offices, and some estimators visit construction sites and factory floors during the course of their work.

Cost Estimator Work Schedules

Cost estimators usually work full time, and some may work overtime in order to meet deadlines.

How to Become a Cost Estimator[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Cost Estimators near you!

A bachelor’s degree is generally required to become a cost estimator, although some highly experienced construction workers may qualify without a bachelor’s degree.

Cost Estimator Education

Employers generally prefer candidates who have a bachelor’s degree. A strong background in mathematics is essential.

Construction cost estimators typically need a bachelor’s degree in an industry-related field, such as construction management, building science, or engineering.

Those interested in estimating manufacturing costs typically need a bachelor’s degree in engineering, business, or finance.

Cost Estimator Training

Some newly hired cost estimators may receive on-the-job training, depending on their experience. Training may include learning a company’s cost-estimating software and techniques.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Some employers prefer that construction cost estimators, particularly those without a bachelor’s degree, have previous work experience in the construction industry. For example, experienced electricians and plumbers can become construction cost estimators if they have the necessary construction knowledge and math skills.

Candidates interested in becoming cost estimators can also gain experience through internships and cooperative education programs.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Voluntary certification can show competence and experience in the field. In some instances, employers may require professional certification before hiring.

The following organizations offer a variety of certifications:

  • American Society of Professional Estimators
  • Association for the Advancement of Cost Estimating International
  • International Cost Estimating and Analysis Association

Estimators must generally have at least 2 years of estimating experience and must pass a written exam to become certified.

Important Qualities for Cost Estimators

Analytical skills. Cost estimators consider and evaluate different construction and manufacturing methods and options to determine the most cost-effective solution that meets the required specifications.

Detail oriented. Cost estimators must pay attention to details, as minor changes can significantly affect the overall cost of a project or product.

Math skills. Cost estimators calculate labor, material, and equipment cost estimates for construction projects. They use software, such as spreadsheets and databases, and they need excellent math skills to accurately calculate these estimates.

Time-management skills. Cost estimators often work on fixed deadlines, so they must plan their work in advance and work efficiently and accurately.

Writing skills. Cost estimators write comprehensive reports, which often help managers make production decisions.

Cost Estimator Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for cost estimators is $60,050. 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 $34,450, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $99,370.

The median annual wages for cost estimators in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Building equipment contractors $63,390
Construction of buildings 62,200
Building finishing contractors 57,120
Manufacturing 57,100

Cost estimators usually work full time, and some may work overtime in order to meet deadlines.

Job Outlook for Cost Estimators[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of cost estimators is projected to grow 9 percent through 2024, faster than the average for all occupations.

Demand for cost estimators is expected to continue because companies need accurate cost projections to ensure that their products and services are profitable.

Growth in the construction industry is expected to create the majority of new jobs for cost estimators, particularly in the specialty trade contractors industries.

Cost Estimators Job Prospects

Overall job prospects should be good. Those with a bachelor’s degree, industry work experience, and excellent math skills should have the best job opportunities. Knowledge of building information modeling (BIM) software is helpful for those seeking employment in construction.

Jobs of cost estimators working in construction, like those of workers in many other trades in the construction industry, are sensitive to changing economic conditions.

Employment projections data for Cost Estimators, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Cost estimators 213,500 232,300 9 18,700

*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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