A bachelor’s degree is generally required for becoming a cost estimator. However, some highly experienced construction workers with analytical abilities may qualify without a bachelor’s degree.
A growing number of employers prefer candidates that have a bachelor’s degree. A strong background in mathematics is essential.
Construction cost estimators generally need a bachelor’s degree in an industry-related field, such as construction management or building science. Those interested in estimating manufacturing costs typically need a bachelor’s degree in engineering, physical sciences, mathematics, or statistics. Some employers prefer candidates with backgrounds in business-related disciplines, such as accounting, finance, business, or economics.
Newly hired estimators often learn the industry by working alongside a more experienced cost estimator. This on-the-job training may last anywhere from several months to a few years, depending on the employer. Each company has its own way of handling estimates, and cost estimators have to learn their employers' ways of estimating costs.
It is important to gain relevant experience in an industry before becoming a cost estimator. For example, construction cost estimators should have experience in the construction industry. People interested in cost estimating can get experience through internships, cooperative education programs, or industry-related jobs.
Voluntary certification can show competence and experience in the field. In some instances, employers may require professional certification before hiring. The American Society of Professional Estimators, the Association for the Advancement of Cost Estimating International (also known as AACE International), and the Society of Cost Estimating and Analysis each offer a variety of certifications.
To become certified, estimators generally must have at least two years of estimating experience and must pass a written exam. In addition, some certification requirements may include publishing at least one article or paper in the field.
Analytical skills. Accurately evaluating detailed specifications is crucial to a cost estimator’s success. For example, a cost estimator must determine how to minimize costs without sacrificing quality.
Critical-thinking skills. Cost estimators must identify the strengths and weaknesses of potential strategies, especially when considering profitability. Information critical to a product’s cost is not always straightforward, so estimators must devise creative ways to assess it.
Detail oriented. Cost estimators must pay attention to small details because they may have a large impact on a product’s overall cost.
Speaking skills. Cost estimators must have good speaking skills because they often discuss complex product information with other industry specialists. They must also present and defend their estimates and recommendations in a clear and convincing way.
Technical skills. Detailed knowledge of industry processes, materials, and costs are vital to estimators. In addition, they should be able to use sophisticated computer programs to calculate equations and handle large databases.
Time-management skills. Because cost estimators often work on fixed deadlines, they must plan their work in advance and do their tasks efficiently and accurately.
Writing skills. Cost estimators must be able to write detailed reports. Often, these reports determine whether or not contracts are awarded or products are manufactured.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition