An estimator in the construction industry is responsible for compiling estimates of how much it will cost to provide a client or potential client with products or services. He or she will do this by working out how much a project is likely to cost and create budgets accordingly. The job involves assessing material, labour and equipment required and analysing different quotes from sub-contractors and suppliers.
An estimator might work from a bill of quantities (the document outlining the basics of the work to be done) or just a set of drawings from the client. Estimators provide prices for everything from a one-off scheme to maintenance projects which will be completed over several years. An estimator working on a Private Finance Initiative, for example, would be providing costs on work to take place over 25 years.
An estimator is concerned with getting the best price that will win the contract in a competitive bidding situation, while ensuring that the contract can be carried out profitably. The best price isn’t always the lowest one, and clients now award contracts based on quality of the service offered, as well as cost. So, when bidding for new work, a quality submission is included along with an estimated price.
While the role of estimator has changed little over the years, many estimators can now be required to help write the quality submission. Today, estimators mainly work in the private sector on maintenance or construction tenders.
Technology, though, has of course changed significantly. Even 25 years ago, an estimator used calculator, paper and pencil to produce an estimate, now computer technology makes it possible to price and change a tender more easily. Tender documents were once completed by hand, now most clients accept electronic submissions. However, the technology has not removed the need for the skills and mindset of the estimator.
Doug Ives, estimating manager for Amey, the public services company which maintains roads, bridges and streetlights across the UK, says: “The deadlines can mean long hours, but if you are methodical, keep good records, understand the client’s documents, seek and take advice, and challenge yourself and others, you will succeed.
“Look for a company willing to invest in your training and development, which will give you the opportunity to work closely with more experienced colleagues.”
Professionals in the field made on average from £47,800 to £52,200 in 2008, and from £48,200 to £52,700 in 2009, according to figures from jobs posted on CareerStructure.com.
Hours and environment
Most estimators spend most of their time in the office, but the job isn’t always 9 to 5. The pressure and fixed nature of deadlines for tender submissions means that some very late nights may sometimes be needed.
Overnight stays are rare, but you may well need to travel to meet clients on site. Protective clothing is normally compulsory for such visits.
You will probably be based within a team environment, but also have to use your own initiative.
There is huge satisfaction and a celebratory atmosphere when a bid is successful, but, inevitably, a lot of disappointment when a competitor wins.
Skills and interests
Estimating has the potential to be an exciting and well-paid career, and it involves a range of skills and interests.
Estimators combine site experience with quantity surveying skills, commercial acumen and a mind capable of financial analysis. Maths and IT skills are important, as are a strong problem-solving ability and keen attention to detail. You’ll also need to be able to communicate well, verbally and in writing, and be able to manage projects.
Organisational and presentational skills are crucial, and estimators also have to be able to meet tight deadlines. Estimators also need an appreciation of data confidentiality, and to be aware of things like price trends, regulations and exchange rates.
The construction industry was one of those worst affected by the recession. But some predictions suggest employment of cost estimators is expected to grow faster than other occupations through to 2014. Many companies are crying out for experienced estimators.
While there may be fewer jobs with the major construction companies, especially at entry level, maintenance companies are thriving. So as long as you’re willing to be flexible and work on different types of projects, there are jobs.
Doug Ives adds: “Although some of the major construction companies are facing uncertain times, those that work with public sector clients are faring better, in particular those providing maintenance services. Despite the challenging economic climate there are always contracts coming up for retender.
“I think there will always be a need for talented individuals who are willing to be flexible, learn quickly and work on different types of jobs.”
Most people go into estimating work with some experience in the same industry as an administrator, technician or surveying assistant.
But you could also study for a BTEC HNC, HND or degree first. Structural engineering, civil engineering or construction are all relevant subjects, and these courses cover contract tendering, estimating and buying.
You could also enter the industry as an apprentice with a building or engineering firm and work your way up.
Training and advancement
Once you start working, you should generally receive further training on the job. And you could work towards the following:
- NVQ in Project Control Levels 3 and 4
- NVQ in Construction Contracting Operations Levels 3 and 4
- Certificate and Diploma in Site Management Level 4
These cover preparing cost budgets, risk analysis, estimating and organising resources, as well as contract and legal work.
Various private training providers also offer different professional development courses.
Having obtained a Level 3 NVQ and several years’ experience, you could boost your career by applying for membership of the Association of Cost Engineers.
Equally, it’s also perfectly possible to progress to team leader or senior management as an estimator.
Most estimators work in private enterprise, for contractors or sub-contractors, although some may work in consultancy. Employers could include organisations such as:
- Balfour Beatty
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