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Cost Estimators - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Voluntary certification can be beneficial to cost estimators because it provides professional recognition of the estimator's competence and experience. In some instances, individual employers may even require professional certification for employment. The ASPE, AACE International, and SCEA administer certification programs. To become certified, estimators usually must have between 2 and 8 years of estimating experience and must pass a written examination. In addition, certification requirements may include the publication of at least one article or paper in the field.

For most estimators, advancement takes the form of higher pay and prestige. Some move into management positions, such as project manager for a construction firm, program manager for a government contractor, or manager of the industrial engineering department for a manufacturer. Others may go into business for themselves as consultants, providing estimating services for a fee to government or to construction or manufacturing firms.

Cost estimators held about 217,800 jobs in 2008. About 59 percent of estimators were in the construction industry and another 15 percent were employed in manufacturing. The remainder worked in a wide range of other industries.

Cost estimators work throughout the country, usually in or near major industrial, commercial, and government centers and in cities and suburban areas experiencing rapid change or development.

Job Outlook
Employment is projected to grow much faster than average. Overall, good job opportunities are expected; those with industry work experience and a bachelor's degree in a related field will have the best prospects.

Job Growth
Employment of cost estimators is expected to grow by 25 percent between 2008 and 2018, much faster than average for all occupations. Growth in the construction industry will account for most new jobs in this occupation. In particular, construction and repair of highways, streets, bridges, subway systems, airports, water and sewage systems, and electric power plants and transmission lines will stimulate the need for more cost estimators. Similarly, an increasing population will result in more construction of residential homes, hospitals, schools, restaurants, and other structures that require cost estimators. As the population ages, the demand for nursing and extended-care facilities will also increase. The growing complexity of construction projects will also boost demand for cost estimators as more workers specialize in a particular area of construction.

Because there are no formal bachelor's degree programs in cost estimating, some employers have difficulty recruiting qualified cost estimators, resulting in good employment opportunities. Job prospects in construction should be best for those who have a degree in construction science, construction management, or building science or have years of practical experience in the various phases of construction or in a specialty craft area. Knowledge of Building Information Modeling software would also be helpful. For cost estimating jobs in manufacturing, those who have degrees in mathematics, statistics, engineering, accounting, business administration, or economics, and who are familiar with cost estimation software should have the best job prospects.

In addition to job openings arising from employment growth, many additional openings should result annually from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations due to the sometimes stressful nature of the work, or who retire or leave the occupation for other reasons.

Employment of cost estimators, like that of many other construction workers, is sensitive to the fluctuations of the economy. Workers in these trades may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand, shortages of these workers may occur in some areas during peak periods of building activity.

Salaries of cost estimators vary widely by experience, education, size of firm, and industry. Median annual wages of wage and salary cost estimators in May 2008 were $56,510. The middle 50 percent earned between $42,720 and $74,320. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,150, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $94,470.

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