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An estimator is hired to estimate the cost and amount of materials, labour and equipment needed to complete construction work.

Membership of a relevant professional body may be beneficial for your career prospects.

What does an estimator do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Estimators, also known as cost planners, are responsible for estimating the costs of a planned construction project in terms of the labour, equipment and materials required. They typically work for construction contractors (that build the project) and are involved in the pre-construction phase of the project at the tendering stage (in which a construction company bids for the work, stating at what price and to what timescale it could complete it). Projects can be new builds or ongoing maintenance or refurbishment work.

An estimator’s typical responsibilities include:

  • analysing plans, bills of quantities and other project documentation in order to estimate costs
  • researching, sourcing, negotiating and obtaining the best prices and quotes from suppliers and subcontractors
  • analysing data that can affect costs (such as currency exchange rates and the company’s productivity rates)
  • assessing the financial, technical and operational risks of the project
  • visiting project sites to gather information
  • staying aware of the latest construction technologies
  • keeping up to date with the latest regulatory and legislative requirements
  • inputting into decisions over whether to bid for the project
  • working closely with key members of the project team (such as the bid manager) and liaising with clients and suppliers
  • keeping detailed records and writing reports.

The role is very similar to that of a quantity surveyor. The main difference between an estimator and a quantity surveyor is that a quantity surveyor typically has a wider remit. If they work for a consultancy (which is concerned with the design of the project), they will cost the designs and provide documents that estimators (who are employed at contractors) work from when making estimations. If quantity surveyors work for a contractor, they will be involved in measuring and monitoring the actual cost of the project as it progresses.

Estimators are likely to work in an office environment with occasional visits to construction sites; they typically work office hours, although longer hours may be required from time to time. As they progress in their careers, they may specialise in a type of project (such as residential or utilities) or in a particular type of construction package (part of a project) or discipline, such as ‘civils’, groundworks, mechanical or interiors.

Typical employers of estimators

  • Construction contractors and subcontractors
  • House builders
  • Property developers
  • The public sector and local housing associations (a few vacancies).

Vacancies are typically advertised online on jobs boards such as TARGETjobs, by university careers services, via recruitment agencies, directly on employers’ websites and on construction industry news websites.

Qualifications and training required

Traditionally, you would move into estimating after starting out in a role such as surveying assistant, but there are a few trainee estimator jobs available. Usually, employers ask for BTECs, A levels, an HNC, HND or bachelor degree in an industry-relevant subject, which can include civil, structural or mechanical engineering, quantity surveying and construction management.

Membership of a relevant professional body may be beneficial for your career prospects. Relevant bodies include the Association of Cost Engineers (ACostE), which requires you to have studied an engineering qualification, or the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB).

Key skills for estimators

  • Numeracy
  • Attention to detail
  • A methodical approach to work
  • Commercial awareness
  • Teamworking, relationship-building and influencing skills
  • Negotiation 
  • Communication 
  • Organisation and time management
  • Problem solving.

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