How to Become a Cost Estimator


Becoming a cost estimator is a great career choice for those that are looking to work with numbers in a fast-paced job that offers plenty of room for growth and demands accuracy and accountability.


Those who become cost estimators have a natural aptitude in mathematics and are able to think analytically. These are skills that are crucial, as cost estimators must be able to effectively balance the need to keep costs low with the need to ensure the project or product is one of high quality. 


You will also most likely need a bachelor’s degree, and be able to work under pressure; mistakes in the work of cost estimators can cause their company to lose a bid for a job, or lose money in a project that could have otherwise been profitable.   


Below we've outlined what you'll need to get into this field. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Cost Estimator

The education needed can vary, depending on the professional experience of the candidate, the discretion of the employer and the field the employer operates within.


Generally, cost estimators are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in an area such as economics, mathematics, building science, statistics, construction management, production management, accounting, finance or engineering. Regardless of the field they pursue, it is crucial for cost estimators to pursue coursework that provides them with a strong foundation in mathematics.


Cost estimators that work in construction are generally required to have a bachelor’s degree in an industry-related field, such as construction management, building science, or engineering.


Those whom are interested in estimating manufacturing costs typically need a bachelor’s degree in engineering, physical sciences, mathematics, statistics or management. 





Cost Estimator Job Description

Cost estimators are responsible for predicting the expense of future projects or products. They are typically employed in the construction or manufacturing fields, although may work in others. In addition to total expenses, cost estimators must also take into account the duration, scope and potential profitability of a new project or product.


Cost estimators must have a thorough understanding of their employer’s industry, which includes the various rates for goods and services. Cost estimators that work in construction, for example, must know how long a certain type of building will take to complete, the cost of building material, the cost of wiring a building electrically, water accessibility, surface topography, getting plumbing services, drainage, insurance, building equipment, taxes, administrative costs, and the amount it will cost to hire construction workers. This information allows them to properly estimate the cost of building a building.



Typical Responsibilities of the Job

• Compile and analyze data related to every factor that may affect cost

• Break down all expense including materials, labour and other resources

• Plan project budget and track expenses throughout the project lifecycle

• May review preliminary plans and architectural drawings of a construction project

• May visit construction site and make note of geographic features, site access to roads and other infrastructure

• Take into account personnel, materials and resources needed for project completion

• Prepare comprehensive cost estimate

• May work with product engineers

• May create a list of parts, tools and other equipment needed

• Consider the cost of human resources associated with manufacturing a product

• May visit factory floor to assess current production conditions and any changes that may be necessary prior to commencing development of the product



Average Salary Level

The salary level of cost estimators can depend on their level of experience, their level of education, where they work, the size and type of their employer, the specific responsibilities of the job, and many other factors.


Cost Estimator Salary Canada (Alberta figures only): According to the 2013 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey (latest figures available at the time of writing - June 4, 2019), Albertans working as part of the Construction Estimators occupational group earned an average salary of $75,167 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories. 


Cost Estimator Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of workers in the Cost Estimators occupational group is $58,860 per year.



Who Employs Them?

Cost estimators are hired on a part-time, full-time or contractual basis by the following types of organizations:


• Residential, commercial or industrial construction companies

• Electrical, mechanical or other trade contractors or subcontractors

• Engineering or architectural consulting firms

• Real estate developers

• Large utility companies

• Colleges and universities

• Municipal, provincial/state and federal government departments

• Property insurance companies

• Manufacturing companies



Skills and Traits Needed

To be an effective cost estimator, you need to posses a certain set of skills and personality traits. These skills and traits will allow you to perform your job duties with competence, as well as help you overcome the challenges of this career.


• Able to perform accurate, detail oriented work

• Able to work well under pressure

• Natural aptitude for mathematics

• Initiative and accountability

• Should enjoy negotiating contract and coordinating projects

• Should enjoy checking details and coordinating projects

• Must have detailed knowledge of industry processes, materials, and costs

• Able to write detailed reports

• Able to effectively evaluate specifications, to reduce costs without sacrificing quality 

• Able to use spreadsheets and other business software, such as bid information modeling (BIM) software





Working Conditions for Cost Estimators

Work Setting: Cost estimators primarily work in offices, although they may travel outside of the office to meet clients on construction sites or in manufacturing facilities.


Work Hours: Cost estimators typically work normal weekday working hours, of approximately 35-40 hours per week. They may be required to work overtime in order to meet deadlines, prepare reports, or perform other duties as required.


Work Environment: Cost estimators may face a great deal of pressure in their work, as they must meet deadlines and ensure their companies do not lose too many bids or lose money on successful bids. When working on a construction site or in a manufacturing facility, cost estimators may be exposed to safety hazards, and would be likely be required to wear protective gear.



Similar Careers in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to this one, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Budget Analyst

Construction Manager


Procurement Manager

Production Manager



Other Job Titles for 'Cost Estimator'

Cost estimators may also be known as:


• Estimators

• Cost Engineers

• Construction Estimators

• Construction Coordinators

• Production Estimators



Cost Estimator Jobs - Current Opportunities

Our job board below has "Cost Estimator" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.



References for This Guide

Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of this profession:


Occupations in Alberta:Construction Estimator.” (March 31, 2017). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 8, 2019.

Business & Financial:Cost Estimators.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 8, 2019.

Explore Careers:Estimator - Cost Engineer.” (n.d.). National Careers Service website. Retrieved November 8, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Cost Estimator

Scholarships listed for majors that apply to becoming a cost estimator can be found on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below can serve as an excellent foundation for working in this field. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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