If you love working with numbers as much as you enjoy meeting and negotiating with people and suppliers, the role of estimator could be perfect for you

Estimators draw up assessments of how much it will cost to provide clients, or potential clients, with products or services.

It's the estimator's job to consider all pertinent information about each building project and decide how much it would cost to meet the client's needs. They'd then need to bid for the work alongside competitors. Quality is also considered alongside the price, so the winning bid isn't always the cheapest one. Estimators not only need to submit budgetary costs and analysis, but they often submit a quality report too, which they may have helped to write.

Estimators are sometimes called construction estimators or cost engineers. They can be found in a variety of different firms depending upon their area of expertise or interest. As an estimator, you could be estimating for projects as varied as a school, road, bridge, shopping centre, residential area or sewage works. Estimators might be involved in small, one-off projects, or larger, long-term projects which may run over many years.

Responsibilities

As an estimator, your typical day could include: 

  • overseeing projects to ensure costs remain in line with forecasts 
  • compiling bids for work 
  • calculating the cost of materials, transport, labour and equipment hire 
  • obtaining quotes for all predicted requirements from sub-contractors and suppliers 
  • collating detailed price lists of everything needed on each construction project 
  • clarifying the client's needs and expectations 
  • reading blueprints and taking measurements 
  • making use of relevant computer software such as Excel, Word and Autodesk DWG TrueView 
  • assessing and adhering to all risk assessments and health and safety requirements 
  • keeping up to date with inflation, exchange rates and projected timescale costs 
  • making visits to proposed construction sites
  • liaising with others including construction managers, planners and design teams 
  • presenting bids to clients and answering their questions 
  • completing work quality submissions 
  • preparing and submitting quotations for work. 

Salary

  • Starting salaries for newly trained estimators are between £18,000 and £20,000.
  • Experienced estimators can earn between £20,000 and £35,000.
  • Senior, chartered or master estimators can earn higher salaries of £35,000 to £40,000.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Typically, you'll work office hours Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, on average working between 37 to 40 hours per week. But, as bid submission deadlines loom, some late nights can be expected.

Site visits are often required but the need to stay away overnight is rare.

What to expect

  • Estimating, and the construction industry overall, is a predominantly male profession. Approximately 14% of estimators are female. Companies are working hard to address this, such as Wilmott Dixon which has a target of achieving gender parity in its workforce by 2030. In addition to this, Women into Construction (WiC) has recently launched a two-year women-only training programme called Moving on Up, which is backed by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB). 
  • The bids you submit won't always be successful. So, although there is an air of celebration when they are, you'll also need to be prepared and be able to bounce back when they aren't. 
  • When undertaking site visits, you'll be required to wear protective clothing. 
  • Some site or contract managers may expect those working on their construction site to hold a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card. The CSCS website will tell you more about what this is and how to apply. 

Qualifications

Although it's not necessary for you to have any formal educational qualifications to enter this career, GCSEs or equivalent at grades 9-4 (A*-C) in science, IT, technology, English and maths are useful.

You could also study for an HNC, HND or degree in subject areas such as:

  • construction management 
  • quantity surveying 
  • building surveying
  • structural engineering 
  • civil engineering.

Another popular route into this industry is through an apprenticeship with a building or engineering firm. Go Construct and Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) contain a lot of useful information about the different apprenticeships available in construction and how to apply.  

Skills

You'll need to be: 

  • highly proficient in numeracy 
  • good at negotiating 
  • able to undertake project management 
  • detail orientated 
  • able to work under pressure and to deadlines 
  • commercially aware of the construction industry 
  • excellent at problem solving 
  • analytically minded, including having the ability to undertake financial analysis 
  • a team player
  • confident to deliver presentations 
  • organised and methodical 
  • proficient at using Microsoft Office as well as industry-specific software
  • good at record keeping 
  • an effective communicator both verbally and in writing 
  • aware of data confidentiality 
  • assertive and resilient. 

Work experience

Work experience is essential if you hope to become an estimator. Ideally, employers would like you to have gained experience of managing elements of construction projects and be familiar with the construction industry. Completing a relevant work experience or an industrial placement whilst studying is beneficial.

Getting a job as an administrator, ideally for a firm which also employs estimators, can provide an excellent grounding from which you can progress to become an estimator. You may also move into estimating from a role as a craftsperson, technician or surveying assistant. 

Employers

Estimators tend to be employed within the private sector by contractors or sub-contractors. Some are also employed as consultants. 

The main employers of estimators include: 

  • engineering companies 
  • consultancy firms 
  • infrastructure groups 
  • facilities management organisations 
  • construction and property development companies 
  • civil engineering firms 
  • rail track construction companies 
  • specialist highway services 
  • mechanical, engineering and plumbing (MEP) service providers 
  • carpentry and joinery sub-contractors 
  • architects 
  • interior fitters. 

Look for job vacancies at: 

Professional development

Once you've secured a job as an estimator, your training and professional development will continue. Some employers have their own on-the-job training which they'll expect you to complete, but you may also request or be asked to undertake additional formal training and certifications. This could include: 

  • NVQ in Project Control Levels 3 and 4 
  • NVQ in Construction Contracting Operations Levels 3 and 4 
  • Certificate and Diploma in Site Management Level 4.

Once you've undertaken at least three years' work experience as an estimator alongside a relevant qualification, you'll be able to apply for chartered membership of the Association of Cost Engineers

Although not essential, you may wish to consider undertaking postgraduate study. Suitable subjects offered include an MSc in Construction Project and Cost Management, Quantity Surveying or Construction Management.

Career prospects

According to Go Construct, the construction industry is growing and will continue to do so. It's expected that 32,000 jobs will be created within the industry in the next five years.

Estimating is a topic that you'll study if you undertake any of the higher education courses previously mentioned. Despite this, the number of graduates who decide to go into estimating as a career is relatively low. This means that, if you decide to follow this career path, you should be able to do so with a good level of success.

Following the completion of your studies, you'd usually work as an assistant to an estimator or quantity surveyor. You would commonly need to gain at least three years' work experience before being promoted to an estimator position.

Upon gaining a few more years' experience as an estimator, you may decide to apply for promotion as a project team leader, quality assurance inspector or contracts manager. Some estimators also decide to move into related areas such as quantity surveying, supply chain or general management.

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