- Posted by Fawkes and Reece
- On 9th July 2019
An estimator is an integral part of the construction industry. They play a key role in the tender process and help companies secure new business.
Estimators can work on one off projects or regular maintenance schemes that may take years to complete fully.
As a part of their role, estimators will also be required to analyse quotes from subcontractors and suppliers.
If this job role and career path speaks to you then read on to find out everything this intricate position entails.
Learn about their daily duties, career progression and potential salaries as well as tips and tools for the job.
Chapter One – What Does An Construction Estimator Actually Do?
What is an estimator?
An Estimator is responsible for producing the commercial aspects of a tender document which are used to secure new business opportunities.
Estimators work out how much a project is likely to cost and then create budgets accordingly. They do this by assessing material, labour and equipment requirements.
Furthermore estimators will take time to analyse different quotes from subcontractors and suppliers to determine what the best route forward is.
Another key responsibility of an estimator is to provide prices for everything. From one off schemes to regular maintenance projects.
Estimators are also concerned with getting the best price that will help them win a contract in a competitive bidding situation.
Ultimately an estimator is in charge of ensuring a project can be carried out profitably.
What are the daily duties of an estimator?
Whilst the exact duties of an estimator will vary from employer to employer there are some duties that will be typical or common amongst different organisations.
Here are those typical duties that you could expect to carry out on a daily basis as an estimator.
First and foremost you’ll be tasked with finding out your client requirements. Learning their needs and how best you can help solve their problems and deliver on their projects.
As part of an estimator role you’ll be expected to research many different materials and the effect they have on project costs. Similarly you’ll be researching different equipment and labour costs.
Building on this research of materials, equipment and labour will be collecting quotes. Specifically you’ll be expected to collect different quotes from material suppliers and subcontractors who may be used for a project.
As an estimator you’ll also be tasked with assessing the levels of commercial risk a project might have. This will help everyone involved in a project understand the different risk factors for any particular project.
Estimators are also typically in control of analysing company data as well as relevant exchange rates and software packages (such as Conquest, Coins, Causeway and Candy).
A big part of an estimators role is preparing and submitting quotations for work. Ultimately helping with bids for new contracts and supporting buying activities.
Chapter Two – Skills And Traits For Being An Estimator
Skills required for an estimator
As you will spend a large majority of your time communicating with different people, such as suppliers and subcontractors it is vital that you possess strong communication skills. You’ll need to have strong written and spoken communication skills as you’ll be doing a lot of both on a daily basis.
As an estimator you will spend a large chunk of your time dealing with both numbers and costs. This is why it’s vital to have strong numeracy skills. You’ll need to be comfortable working with large numbers and costs on a frequent basis as this is an unavoidable fundamental of the role.
Strong analytical skills will be vital as you’ll spend a large amount of time analysing different things such as quotes from suppliers and subcontractors as well as company data.
Estimators should possess a high level of understanding of construction plans as this is critical in being able to truly understand and fulfil the role of an estimator who works on construction projects.
Finally it’s important for estimators to have strong general IT skills. You should also have experience with industry specific software packages such as ConQuest, Coins, Causeway and Candy.
Traits required for an estimator
As well as the above skills successful estimators should also possess the following traits.
People who have these traits are likely to make highly sought after estimators in the construction industry.
First and foremost you should have a ‘get stuff done’ attitude. To succeed you will need to be proactive and self motivated to make sure important tasks are completed to tight deadlines.
As well as a proactive attitude you’ll need to have a very high attention to detail. Accuracy will be key in being able to provide the best estimates and plans for projects so a keen eye for detail and figures will be mandatory for this role.
As an estimator you’ll often be exposed to confidential data and information that you will be expected to handle in confidence. It’s vital that your employer and colleagues trust you with handling such information.
Though you may carry out your own work on your own, you’ll likely be part of much larger groups. It’s imperative you can work well within a team and contribute to something bigger than yourself.
Chapter Three – How Do You Become An Estimator?
What are the paths to becoming an estimator?
There are a few different paths you can take to become an estimator.
One common path is to train as a quantity surveyor, site manager or purchaser before switching to Estimating.
Another path is studying a HNC or HND or degree in a relevant subject. Relevant subjects include structural engineering, civil engineering, construction and quantity surveying. Typically these subjects will include units that cover contract tendering, estimating and buying. Setting you up nicely for a career in estimating.
Having completed your initial education you’ll then likely receive on the job training once you secure a starting position in estimating.
Having secured your first estimating job and started some on the job training employers will typically sponsor further qualifications. However be aware this usually includes a minimum duration clause.
Often employers will sponsor to take further qualifications. Normally means a minimum duration clause.
What qualifications or certifications do you need to be an estimator?
Typically you’ll be required to have a formal qualification in order to become an estimator.
You should aim to study a Higher National Certificate or Higher National Diploma in one of the following:
1. Diploma in Project Control, Estimating, Planning and Cost Engineering
2. Diploma in Project Control
3. Diploma in Construction Contracting Operations
4. Certificate/Diploma in Site Management
5. Diploma in Project Control (Cost)
6. Diploma in Estimating
These qualifications should cover units that tackle risk analysis, estimating, preparing cost budgets, organising resources, contract and legal work.
Professional Organisations for estimators
Having secured an estimating job you’ll want to become a member of one of the following professional organisations for estimators. Doing so will help you establish and further your career as a highly regarded estimator.
1. Associate of Cost Engineers
2. Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECTIB)
3. Institute of Highways and Transportation
4. Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
Chapter Four – How Much Does An Estimator Earn?
Salary expectations for estimators from junior to senior
When embarking on any career it’s important to have an understanding of starting and on going earning potential.
In the following we outline salary expectations for different stages of your career and development as an estimator.
However here are some general guidelines for estimator salaries.
Starting salaries for permanent employees can range anywhere between £25,000 and £35,000 per year. Variables affecting this band are likely to be employer size and location. Typically estimators working in London can expect to earn a higher salary than one working outside of the capital.
As you move on in your career and gain more experience your earning potential is likely to grow to between £40,000 and £45,000. This may vary more depending on your experience and further qualifications attained.
As you become more established and reach the senior estimating ranks salaries are typically anywhere between £55,000 and £80,000. Again this will vary depending on the employer, location, experience and notoriety in the industry.
There are alternatives to working for a firm or organisation as the option of going freelance exists in the estimating industry.
For freelance roles, a starting rate of circa £150 per day is fairly typical. Depending on experience and qualifications this can rise to between £200 and £250 per day.
Senior freelance estimators could expect to receive between £250 and £350 per day.
Effect of location
As mentioned one of the biggest influencing factors on salary will be location.
For instance salaries in London regularly reach £80,000 and can even rise more for experienced estimators. However, other areas in the country might be on the lower side of the bracket.
It’s quite common for estimators to be provided a car or car allowance on top of their salary package.
Packages will generally also include pension schemes and private medical insurance.
Freelancers usually only receive a day rate. Though some employers may pay for travel expenses or provide a travel allowance.
Hours and environment
Most of the time estimators will be in the office and work the usual 9 to 5. However this can change due to project commitments.
For instance pressure and time restrictions can often lead to late nights to meet important deadlines.
Sometimes you may be required to visit clients and stay over night.
You’ll likely work within a team, though you’ll need to use your own initiative.
There will be lots of highs and lows from winning or losing bids for contracts.
Chapter Five – What Is The Career Progression For An Estimator?
What is the starting position of an estimator?
As with most careers you will start off by acquiring an entry level position within an organisation. As an Estimator you should receive on the job training which will help develop and further your knowledge and skills.
As part of your entry level position you should be given the chance to work towards professional qualifications.
These will help cement your career decision and allow you to progress in the industry.
How does an estimators career progress?
After you’ve been in your entry level position for a while you’ll likely be thinking “now what? What’s next?”.
As with most careers, the more experience and knowledge you acquire you will begin to progress.
Within the estimator industry there is a relatively clear progress path.
Once you’ve been an estimator for a while you will progress to a Senior Estimator.
This role will give you more seniority and responsibility on projects.
As a Senior Estimator you may want to apply for membership to the Association of Cost Engineers.
As you progress further in your career you will likely progress to a Team Leader role.
Alternatively there may be opportunities to progress to Senior Management as an Estimator.
What are the senior levels of estimating?
There are different senior levels of Estimator. Depending on your experience and opportunities will play a part in where you end up in your Estimating career.
Some of the most common senior levels include:
1. Senior Management
2. Team Leader
3. Senior (Cost) Estimator
4. Estimating Engineer
Chapter Six – What Are Some Things Every Estimator Should Know?
Key things to know for being an estimator
1. Know your position on the team
All companies are structured differently with different workflows. In order to be the best estimator you can be, make sure you learn exactly where you fit in and how you can continue to improve. Make sure you have a clear and exact understanding of your role and what you’re responsible for.
2. How to set up systems to speed up tasks
No matter what company you’re working for. It’s vital that you put systems and workflows in place which allow you to work quickly and efficiently without making mistakes. Consider using templates, checklists as well as a decent project or estimating software package.
3. Be aware of all the parties interested in the project
On any given project there will be multiple stakeholders. And all probably with a different focus. However it’s your job to identity the impact of different costs, timeframes, materials and labour will have on these different individuals.
4. Understand the law
To make sure your project doesn’t fall foul of any red tape, prosecution or bureaucracy make sure you understand all of the different laws and regulations which govern and affect your particular project. It’s not enough to know about current legislation but you should also stay abreast of any upcoming regulations which may have an impact.
5. Master of the art of communication
You’ll spend a lot of your time communicating with different people. From stakeholders and contractors to your team and manager. Make sure you develop the necessary communication skills to coherently and effectively make your point. Be it orally or written.
Common mistakes regarding estimating
As with anything that requires a certain level of knowledge or skill there are common mistakes.
Its best to learn from these and identify mistakes you should avoid during your career.
Here are some common estimating mistakes you should avoid.
1. Underestimating how long tasks will take
It’s vital that you correctly estimate how long specific tasks will take individuals. If you have a task which you estimate will take 2 individuals 4 hours but in reality that task actually takes 3 individuals 6 hours you will have problems. Not only will you be spending more money on a specific task, but also more time which may increase costs and push time frames back.
2. Lack of transparency
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your estimates are top secret confidential information. It’s important and useful to share your estimations amongst different project stakeholders. Quite often different people will be looking for different things so may catch errors that others have missed. Catching mistakes early can stop them becoming issues down the line.
3. Neglecting the details
The key to a successful project is the details. Make sure you know your exact material requirements before beginning a project. There is a range of helpful software solutions which can make sure you get the details bang on when starting a new project.
4. Current marketing conditions
Current market conditions can massively influence your estimations. Market conditions can affect the cost of materials and labour before a project even starts. It’s also important to keep up-to-date as new regulations and legislation could come into force which may also affect matters.
5. Commonly missed line items
Sometimes you’ll need to create an estimate to an impossibly tight deadline. In these cases its not rare that important or obvious items are missed off. So, even when working to a tight deadline try and double check to make sure you’ve included everything.
Chapter Seven – Are There Any Estimating Specialisms?
What different types of estimations are there?
Accurate estimations for costs, labour and material are vital to the success of a construction project. Estimators need to make sure they have an accurate projection of what materials and how much labour they need before embarking on a project.
To help estimators draw up accurate estimations there are different techniques that can be used.
These are broken up into three distinct categories.
The three types of estimating are:
2. Source of data
3. Estimating techniques
The level of accuracy will vary depending on the details of a project. There are five types of estimating that sit within this category.
1. Order of Magnitude (Rough Order of Magnitude)
This type of estimation is useful in identifying and screen potential projects. It will help you decide which projects you should pursue. The project is defined around 0 – 5% and is roughly 30 to 50% accurate.
This estimation technique is used to determine the feasibility of a project. This will ultimately be the difference between going ahead with a project or stopping. The project will be defined around 5 to 20% and is 10 to 25% accurate.
This estimation type is also sometimes referred to as a budget level estimate. This estimation is used to help decide between various different options. The project will be defined between 10 to 40% and is 10 to 15% accurate.
This estimation is used upon design completion. The project costs will be well known at this point and will break the project down into its different parts. The project is defined from 90 to 100% and the accuracy is 5 to 10%.
This type of estimation applies when project costs are known. As this estimation type happens after the design and tender phases costs will be well known by this point. Though some things can still change. But generally speaking this should be very accurate.
Source of data
Another way of categorising estimating is based on where the data originates from. This is called the source of data and there are four different methods.
1. Expert judgement
An expert judgement estimation is simply that. This is where you’re able to access an expert on the particular matter at hand who can provide you with a clear and detailed explanation. They should be able to provide knowledgeable guidance to ensure that estimates are accurate.
2. Analogous estimating
An analogous estimate as you might figure out is whereby a potential project is compared to a project of a similar nature. This can provide a helpful basis for an estimation. You can also scale details based on how your potential project compares with previous ones.
3. Parametric estimating
Parametric estimating is where an accurate unit cost is provided and scaled up accordingly. You can usually find accurate cost data that has been published. Alternatively this can originate from an in house source.
4. Three point estimating
Three point estimating utilises an optimistic and pessimistic value which can be used to skew project estimates based on potential upsides or downsides. The third point from which this technique gets is name is the ‘normal value’. This is the most likely estimate of the three points.
There are two main techniques when it comes to estimating, these are top down and bottom up.
1. Top down estimating
Top down is where an estimate is established at project level or in other words the top. This estimate is then apportioned to the individual tasks which make up that project (down).
2. Bottom up estimating
The bottom up approach is the most common approach. The individual tasks are estimated (bottom) and then rolled up to the project estimate (up). This is usually how most projects are estimated.
Chapter Eight – Top Construction Estimator Employers
Who employs estimators?
Perhaps one of the most important things you’ll want to know about being an estimator is where you might end up working.
There’s a large range of businesses who employ estimators across the UK construction industry.
And due to industry growth demand is high for skilled Estimators.
The majority of estimators work for contractors, subcontractors and consultancies.
When looking for an employer, you should consider the size of the company.
There are different advantages and disadvantages to working in a large or smaller organisation.
In smaller companies you typically get more exposure and responsibility.
However working in larger organisations can often lead to working on larger higher profile projects.
Career progression also tends to be clearer in a larger organisation.
Some top employers include: