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.
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 profits.
In building construction, cost estimators use software to simulate the construction process and evaluate the costs of design choices. They often consult databases and their own records to compare the costs of similar projects.
The following are examples of types of cost estimators:
Construction cost estimators prepare estimates for buildings, roads, and other construction projects. 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.
Other workers, such as operations research analysts and construction managers, may also estimate costs in the course of their usual duties.
Cost estimators held about 217,400 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of cost estimators were as follows:
|Specialty trade contractors||35%|
|Construction of buildings||18|
|Automotive repair and maintenance||7|
|Heavy and civil engineering construction||6|
Cost estimators work mostly in offices, and some estimators visit construction sites and factory assembly lines during the course of their work.
Most cost estimators work full time and some work more than 40 hours per week.
Most cost estimators need a bachelor’s degree, although some workers with several years of experience in construction may qualify without a bachelor’s degree.
Employers generally prefer candidates who have a bachelor’s degree.
Construction cost estimators typically need a bachelor’s degree in an industry-related field, such as construction management or engineering. Manufacturing cost estimators typically need a bachelor’s degree in engineering, business, or finance.
Most cost estimators receive on-the-job training, which may include instruction in cost estimation techniques and software, as well as industry-specific software, such as building information modeling (BIM) and computer-aided design (CAD) software.
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. Some construction cost estimators become qualified solely through extensive work experience.
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.
Communication skills. Cost estimators write comprehensive reports, which often help managers make production decisions.
Detail oriented. Cost estimators must pay attention to details because minor changes can greatly 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 calculate these estimates accurately.
Time-management skills. Cost estimators often work on fixed deadlines, so they must plan in advance and work efficiently.
The median annual wage for cost estimators was $64,040 in May 2018.
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 $38,060, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $107,940.
In May 2018, the median annual wages for cost estimators in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Heavy and civil engineering construction||$73,040|
|Construction of buildings||68,310|
|Specialty trade contractors||64,620|
|Automotive repair and maintenance||55,110|
Most cost estimators work full time and some work more than 40 hours per week.
Median annual wages, May 2018
- Business operations specialists
- Cost estimators
- Total, all occupations
Employment of cost estimators is projected to grow 9 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster the average for all occupations.
There will continue to be demand for cost estimators 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.
Overall job prospects should be good. Knowledge of building information modeling (BIM) and computer-aided design (CAD) software may improve job prospects, especially 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.
|Occupational Title||SOC Code||Employment, 2018||Projected Employment, 2028||Change, 2018-28||Employment by Industry|
SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of cost estimators.
|Occupation||Job Duties||Entry-Level Education||Median Annual Pay, May 2018|
Accountants and Auditors
Accountants and auditors prepare and examine financial records.
Budget analysts help public and private institutions organize their finances.
Claims Adjusters, Appraisers, Examiners, and Investigators
Claims adjusters, appraisers, examiners, and investigators evaluate insurance claims.
|See How to Become One||$65,670|
Construction managers plan, coordinate, budget, and supervise construction projects from start to finish.
Financial analysts provide guidance to businesses and individuals making investment decisions.
Financial managers produce financial reports, direct investment activities, and develop strategies and plans for the long-term financial goals of their organization.
Industrial Production Managers
Industrial production managers oversee the daily operations of manufacturing and related plants.
Logisticians analyze and coordinate an organization’s supply chain.
Operations Research Analysts
Operations research analysts use advanced mathematical and analytical methods to help solve complex issues.
For more information about cost estimators, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Cost Estimators,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/cost-estimators.htm (visited ).