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Getting Hired: How to Find Your Next Cost Estimating Job

Posted: May 7, 2019

With the construction industry adding 33,000 net new jobs in April, it’s not surprising that demand is running high for nearly all construction positions. Project backlogs that are nearly nine months long and an unemployment rate that is at its lowest since 1969 are adding even more pressure to this labor squeeze. No doubt, it’s getting harder and harder for many in the construction business to find and retain top talent.

For cost estimators, this is great news as it means more demand and rising salaries for their critical construction role. In fact, the global employment search engine Indeed ranked construction estimator at No. 19 on its recent list—Top 25 Best Jobs in the U.S. for 2019.

Why such a high ranking? Salary is a big part of the equation. Construction estimators saw their average base salary of $78,052 jump to $84,963 in 2018—a nearly 9 percent salary increase year-over-year, according to Indeed.

Tight Labor Market Fueling Growth

It’s a fact: construction employers are worried about how to attract qualified workers. A report by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) showed that 79% of construction firms plan to raise salaries in 2019. The survey of 1,300 U.S. contractors found firms are coping with tight labor economics by improving pay and benefits. Almost 60% of employers raised base pay rates, while around 30% increased incentives, bonuses, and benefits.

Also, construction executives appear confident about their market prospects for 2019 and plan to add headcount to cope with the added workload. AGC’s chief executive officer Stephen E. Sandherr noted: “Even as they are optimistic about growing demand, contractors are concerned about finding qualified workers to execute projects.”

Cost Estimators Play Critical Role

Dive into the data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and you’ll find a bright outlook for construction estimators. They report median pay in 2018 at $64,040 ($30.79 per hour) with the total number of estimators on the job in excess of 200,000. They also predict the position will see faster than average job growth of 11% through 2026 with the need to add nearly 23,000 more estimators.

Estimators play a vital role in the construction industry as their job requires them to bid and win construction projects and ensure a healthy profit margin for their businesses. Analyzing everything from labor, material, and time costs mean estimators must address issues through the entire construction process.

Where is demand strongest? Projections Central reports the states with the highest need for estimators in 2019 will include California, Florida, New York, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. They predict there are about 24,400 annual projected job openings nationally for this position.

Help Wanted: 6,000 Estimators

Just do a quick search on Indeed for construction estimators in the United States and you’ll find more than 6,000 job openings. When we looked, new jobs added in a given day totaled more than 3,000 positions. Of course, this search turned up a wide range of jobs—from senior estimators to entry-level positions and specialized jobs in everything from earthworks to cladding.

Perusing job listings for construction estimators also revealed a wide variety of experience and education requirements. Some estimator jobs require high school or associate’s degree while other senior positions prefer a master’s degree. Some estimator roles offer on-the-job training while others require a bachelor’s degree.

Tech Skills are a Must-Have

One thing is clear: tech requirements are becoming more common with most positions listed on employment sites requiring software knowledge. These range from desktop programs to specialized estimating programs.

According to the Occupational Information Network (O*Net), today’s cost estimators are more frequently required to have software skills. Estimators should be proficient in these programs:

  • Accounting Software
  • Analytical or scientific software
  • Computer-aided design (CAD) software
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) software
  • Database reporting software
  • Document management software
  • Email software
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software
  • Project management software
  • License management software
  • Spreadsheet software
  • Estimating software

Estimators Wear Many Hats

Like with everything else in construction, the cost estimator’s role is changing and expanding. Hiring bosses are not just looking for estimators who can return a set of plans with a number. With rising client expectations, today’s owners have a lot riding on costly change orders and delays.

This means an estimator must be more than just good at math, but also have a keen ability to communicate. In our Infographic, Anatomy of a Great Estimator we share the key traits of great estimators.

Here are three of the most common skills estimators will need when looking to land their next job:

  1. Field experience. More and more, contractors are looking for estimators with field experience—even if from summer jobs. Understanding how a project is put together, the time and labor required, helps to provide insight into areas where projects have hidden profit. Our survey showed that more than 70% of estimators have 15+ years of experience.
  2. Ability to conceptualize. Successful estimators can not only easily read and interpret drawings and specifications, but also visualize what is not apparent and take efforts to mitigate any potential risks. In fact, 65.5% of estimators we surveyed say this skill is critical for success.
  3. Detail-oriented and organized. Great estimators must keep track and document large volumes of drawings and specs, along with client communications, to ensure accuracy. Calculations, along with the latest subcontractor prices and area multipliers, can change in the blink of an eye. Estimators must be organized and capable of tracking down missing details to ensure the technical accuracy of all cost estimates.

Want to learn more about construction estimator hiring? Download our How to Hire a Great Estimator Guide now. You’ll get step-by-step advice on everything from writing a winning job description to identifying top candidates.

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