Cost Estimator: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements to become a cost estimator. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, licensure and certification, and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Finance degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Cost Estimator Do?

Cost estimators work in the construction or manufacturing industries, forecasting the costs of projects in order to stay competitive and profitable. They estimate many different aspects of the projects they are working on including time, money and materials. They also must consider any labor required for the projects as well. Cost estimators use blueprints and work with engineers, architects and contractors to create an accurate estimate. Estimators must also develop documents to of estimates and bids, keep record of the estimates and find ways to decrease costs.

The table below outlines the general requirements for a career as a cost estimator.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Construction science or engineering
Training Required On-the-job training in most companies
Key Skills Analytical skills, detail oriented, technical skills, time-management skills, writing skills
Certification Required Required by some employers
Job Growth (2014-2024) 9%*
Mean Annual Salary (2015) $64,810*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Is a Cost Estimator?

A cost estimator assesses the price, magnitude and duration of proposed projects. These projects primarily fall within the construction and manufacturing industries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the majority of cost estimators work in the construction industry and the manufacturing industry (www.bls.gov). Other industries that employ cost estimators include real estate and natural resource extraction.

Regardless of the industry, as a cost estimator you evaluate variables, such as equipment, material and labor requirements, location, taxes and insurance, to create a price forecasts. After analyzing data from different quantity surveys and evaluations, you prepare management reports, such as cost summaries and time-phase charts, based on your findings.

What Are the Education Requirements?

The BLS reports that, while specific education requirements vary among industries, many employers in the construction industry prefer cost estimator job applicants with a bachelor's degree in construction management, construction science, construction technology engineering or a related discipline. Bachelor's degrees in engineering, physical science, finance or other correlated fields are preferred by employers in the manufacturing industry. However, depending on the employer, applicants with associate's degrees or those with extensive work experience may also be viable candidates for employment.

An associate's degree program in a construction discipline may provide basic training in surveying and construction applications. Bachelor's degree coursework may cover topics such as advanced estimating and construction management. They may also cover topics such as construction contracts, specifications, building codes and safety.

If you choose to earn a degree in engineering, you may be required to select an area of specialization, such as mechanical or industrial engineering. In an associate's degree engineering program, you may receive foundational training in engineering computations and graphics. Your baccalaureate curriculum may include coursework on thermodynamics and systems modeling.

Do I Need Licensure or Certification?

While you are not required to obtain licensure or certification to comply with state or federal regulations, some employers may require professional certification as a cost estimator. Various trade organizations, such as the Society of Cost Estimating and Analysis, American Society of Professional Estimators and Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering International, offer certification. Depending on the administering organization, prerequisites for certification may include 2-8 years of work experience as a cost estimator. Certification is usually awarded upon passing an examination.

What Salary Could I Earn?

The BLS projects that employment opportunities for cost estimators will increase 9% from 2014 through 2024. According to the BLS, as of May 2015 the annual mean salary for cost estimators was $64,810.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are several career options that are similar to a cost estimator and that also require a bachelor's degree. A budget analyst works with organizations to better understand their finances. They help create budgets and manage spending. Construction managers are also similar to cost estimators in that they help with the budget aspect of construction projects. They also plan out and supervise the projects. Financial managers take care of the finances in organizations by creating reports and help the organization meet their long-term goals.

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