This article was published by Estimating Today on February 2014 Edition. To see full magazine, click here.

In 2010, at the height of the recession, I was asked to do a presentation for ASPE (American Society of Professional Estimators) Chapter 49 titled, “The 2010 Estimator; Marketing Yourself and Your skills for Employment.” So many of our chapter members found themselves in the unemployment line, as I’m sure many of you did. The Bureau of Labor statistics reported that cost estimators held about 217,800 jobs in the U.S. in 2008. By 2010, the number had dropped to 185, 400. The construction industry employs approximately 59 percent of estimators; manufacturing another 15 percent; and the remainder work in a wide range of other industries including legal, healthcare and banking, to name a few.

Ready for some great news estimators? Cost Estimators are on the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s fastest-growing occupations based on projections to 2020. The projections by the year 2020 are that 252, 900 estimating jobs will be available in the U.S., and approximately 150,000 of those will be in the construction industry. The nearly 40,000 newly created construction estimating positions do not take into consideration the immense amount of turnover we have in our industry.

How do we improve the turnover stats and, if you are still an unemployed estimator, what do you do to get hired? Lets start by looking at defining the estimators who are currently employed in the industry and some trends we see happening.

Over 93 percent of construction companies in the U.S. are considered small businesses and employ, typically, no more than three estimators within their organizations. Seven percent of mid to large companies will employ ten times as many estimators or more nationally, but dependent on how they are structured, some of their local offices may have fewer than five estimators at any one location. With expanded technology and ease of travel, we are seeing many companies consolidate estimating into a corporate location supporting multiple satellite offices throughout a region or the country.

There are very few general contractors that are that are requiring estimators to do full take-offs on all divisions. Subcontractor and specialty trades are typically employing the estimators who perform the full breakdowns; and the general contractors are focusing on estimators within their organization who have strong phone and interpersonal skills, can communicate effectively in writing, review tight scopes of work, spot check numbers as needed to ensure accuracy and, of course, assemble the full bid package. Divisional specialists working within organizations are hired to know their trade down to the last detail, know value engineering and are full experts in price, scope, vendors and the particulars of the division they represent, whether acting as a sub or sometimes prime. The estimators who remained employed in the recession were typically the people that have the top 10 list of skills for an estimator (click to list below), or they were the right hand to owners or rain makers, providing them the detail they needed to land projects.

  1. Estimating
  2. Writing
  3. Communicating
  4. Researching
  5. Negotiation
  6. Purchasing
  7. Computer
  8. Presentation
  9. Closing
  10. Networking

The industry has changed a lot from the early days. There are exponentially more products and vendors to choose from, requiring more research than ever before. Technology is changing at the speed of light, including new estimating software programs that assist from takeoff to buyout, and one-touch contracts and purchase orders. Education for the estimator includes understanding contract legalities, labor issues, contract types, and delivery process, to name a few. After the recession, estimators need to ask the right resource questions to ensure that their previous favorite contractors and subs currently have the personnel, equipment and cash flow reserves to complete a project according to the specs and schedule.

What should both the estimator and the employer be looking for when considering working with one another?

Experience should be a match. This includes what construction discipline: vertical building, infrastructure, division specific etc.; and project type match, such as healthcare, stadiums, residential, bridges, underground utilities, commercial, new construction, renovation, etc. You should agree to the geographical area served and whether travel is necessary and how often. Some of the items are less important if the estimator is going to have someone to train him and has the ability to learn the discipline with time.

During the interview process, technology, procedural and communication standards, and key relationships, both internal and external, should be discussed, ensuring that both parties are not walking into any surprises of what is not known or assumed, but required. Discussions should include how the estimator will work and the structure of the company. Will they be the sole person supporting operations or will he be part of a team? Will they lead people or just work through processes? Who does he go to for training or support if needed? What other specifics pertaining to the company; such as private office or open environment; what type of takeoff and estimating software; dual screen or single screen monitors; extended working hours, etc. Are local marketplace or industry contacts required?

Estimators, the top employers will be looking to verify your dependability, loyalty, honesty, integrity, positive and proactive attitude, willingness to work, flexibility, motivation, accuracy/preciseness and professionalism. In exchange you should be asking questions to make sure that they possess the core value and character traits you are seeking in an employer. This is verifiable on both sides through reference checking and open communication with provable facts.

In closing I am going to remove some fallacies and give a few tips for making sure it’s a match before you employ:

Fallacy #1 – A bigger company does not mean a bigger paycheck, better work environment, more stability or more advanced technology. It is all dependent on the leadership at the top and the culture and standards and smart business practices set forth.

Fallacy #2 – Estimators are not valued within an organization as much as operations. Although many estimators express feeling this way, it really has more to do with perception than reality and, again, leadership and the culture they set forth. Estimators are typically motivated and rewarded differently than operations and typically assumed to be a required compliment to operations.

Fallacy #3 – An estimator that has never worked in the field is not as knowledgeable as one who has field experience. The truth is that estimators that have field experience typically understand others’ roles within the organization better and tend to recognize if something on paper will actually work as drawn and can be built. That doesn’t make them more knowledgeable; it just gives them a broader knowledge base. At the end of the day, the estimator who has great estimating skills, sound estimating experience, a great attitude, is a team player, and is humble enough to ask for assistance is the guy who gets the job and performs the best.

Prequalifying Tips:

  • A minimum of two face to face interviews with open discussion of the topics outlined in this article.
  • Take time to check three to five references of people they have worked directly for or directly with; i.e., past employers, coworkers in estimating, subs, suppliers, architects, etc.
  • Ask to see a sample bid or ask them to prepare an estimate on a project you have already estimated.
  • Administer an assessment test like the DiSC profile that will show their level of conscientiousness and how they communicate and relate to a team; however, the results of the DiSC should not be weighted to more than one-quarter of the decision making process.