Cost Estimators

Summary

cost estimators image
Cost estimators prepare estimates for the time, money, materials, and labor required to manufacture a product.
Quick Facts: Cost Estimators
2015 Median Pay $60,390 per year
$29.03 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 213,500
Job Outlook, 2014-24 9% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 18,700

What Cost Estimators Do

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.

Work Environment

Cost estimators work mostly in offices, and some estimators also visit construction sites and factory floors. They may sometimes work overtime to meet deadlines.

How to Become a Cost Estimator

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. A strong background in mathematics is essential.

Pay

The median annual wage for cost estimators was $60,390 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of cost estimators is projected to grow 9 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Overall job opportunities should be good as companies require accurate cost estimates to operate efficiently.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for cost estimators.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of cost estimators with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about cost estimators by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Cost Estimators Do

Cost estimators
Cost estimators often collaborate with engineers.

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

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

Cost estimators
Cost estimators may visit construction sites to gather information.

Cost estimators held about 213,500 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most cost estimators were 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.

Work Schedules

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

How to Become a Cost Estimator

Cost estimators
Cost estimators learn to use specialized cost estimating software.

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.

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.

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:

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

Important Qualities

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.

Pay

Cost Estimators

Median annual wages, May 2015

Business operations specialists

$64,510

Cost estimators

$60,390

Total, all occupations

$36,200

 

The median annual wage for cost estimators was $60,390 in May 2015. 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 $34,720, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $100,570.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for cost estimators in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Building equipment contractors $64,030
Construction of buildings 61,890
Building finishing contractors 58,360
Manufacturing 57,470

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

Job Outlook

Cost Estimators

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Cost estimators

9%

Business operations specialists

7%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Employment of cost estimators is projected to grow 9 percent from 2014 to 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.

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 SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Cost estimators

13-1051 213,500 232,300 9 18,700 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of cost estimators.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2015 MEDIAN PAY
Accountants and auditors

Accountants and Auditors

Accountants and auditors prepare and examine financial records. They ensure that financial records are accurate and that taxes are paid properly and on time. Accountants and auditors assess financial operations and work to help ensure that organizations run efficiently.

Bachelor's degree $67,190
Budget analysts

Budget Analysts

Budget analysts help public and private institutions organize their finances. They prepare budget reports and monitor institutional spending.

Bachelor's degree $71,590
Claims adjusters, appraisers, examiners, and investigators

Claims Adjusters, Appraisers, Examiners, and Investigators

Claims adjusters, appraisers, examiners, and investigators evaluate insurance claims. They decide whether an insurance company must pay a claim, and if so, how much.

See How to Become One $63,060
Construction managers

Construction Managers

Construction managers plan, coordinate, budget, and supervise construction projects from start to finish.

Bachelor's degree $87,400
Financial analysts

Financial Analysts

Financial analysts provide guidance to businesses and individuals making investment decisions. They assess the performance of stocks, bonds, and other types of investments.

Bachelor's degree $80,310
Financial managers

Financial Managers

Financial managers are responsible for the financial health of an organization. They produce financial reports, direct investment activities, and develop strategies and plans for the long-term financial goals of their organization.

Bachelor's degree $117,990
Industrial production managers

Industrial Production Managers

Industrial production managers oversee the daily operations of manufacturing and related plants. They coordinate, plan, and direct the activities used to create a wide range of goods, such as cars, computer equipment, or paper products.

Bachelor's degree $93,940
Operations research analysts

Operations Research Analysts

Operations research analysts use advanced mathematical and analytical methods to help organizations investigate complex issues, identify and solve problems, and make better decisions.

Bachelor's degree $78,630
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Cost Estimators,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/cost-estimators.htm (visited April 29, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015