By Bob George
It would seem that estimating is a natural career progression for someone who has worked in the trades (carpenter, electrician, etc.), and is now getting to the stage of life where the tools are a bit heavier and the ladders several rungs taller. The interesting thing about the construction estimating profession is that there are no set qualifications. It would be nice if you had an engineering degree but there are many very successful estimators with little more than a high school education. It would also be nice if you had ten years of field experience but there are successful estimators with no field experience.
A lot of what you need to do to become an estimator depends on what you want to estimate. If you are looking for a job estimating carpentry or concrete work, the requirements will be less demanding than if you want to estimate the cost of $100-million high-rise towers or nuclear power plants.
Employers interviewing estimators will look for three specific areas of credentials to satisfy: education, experience, and presentation (how you present yourself).
If you have a degree in construction engineering, civil engineering or architecture then you are starting with a big advantage. If you don’t have a construction-related degree, then it would benefit you to complete a Professional Certificate Program in Construction Estimating.
Either you have it or you don’t. Field experience doing the type of work you will be estimating is very good to have. Experience producing successful estimates is the gold standard. If you don’t have experience then make darn sure you satisfy the other two requirements listed here (education and presentation).
How you present yourself is important on several levels. The personality traits of good estimators are considered by some to be at least as important as education. Estimators must have an eye for detail, and they must understand the value of money, be competitive and have an aptitude for mathematics. They also must be analytical, adaptable, and technically oriented. Estimators often meet with clients and company management so they need people skills too.
Robert R. George, MsEd, MBA, CPE, is a 30-year construction industry veteran holding positions from craft-person to vice president of operations. He has been teaching construction classes online since 1994 and is currently the coordinator of the various construction certificate programs offered through SDSU CES. He is the president of ConstructionClasses.com and Construction Experts, Inc.