Career Detail

Cost Estimator
Accurately forecasting the scope, cost, and duration of future projects is vital to the survival of any business.
The Job
In manufacturing and other firms, cost estimators usually are assigned to the engineering, cost, or pricing department. The estimator's goal is to accurately estimate the costs associated with making products. The job may begin when management requests an estimate of the costs associated with a major redesign of an existing product or the development of a new product or production process. When estimating the cost of developing a new product, for example, the estimator works with engineers, first reviewing blueprints or conceptual drawings to determine the machining operations, tools, gauges, and materials that would be required. The estimator then prepares a parts list and determines whether it is more efficient to produce or to purchase the parts. To do this, the estimator asks for price information from potential suppliers. The next step is to determine the cost of manufacturing each component of the product. Some high-technology products require a considerable amount of computer programming during the design phase. The cost of software development is one of the fastest growing and most difficult activities to estimate. As a result, some cost estimators now specialize in estimating only computer software development and related costs.
Work Environment
Although estimators spend most of their time in a comfortable office, construction estimators also visit worksites that can be dusty, dirty, and occasionally hazardous.
College Majors
Degree in engineering, physical science, operations research, mathematics, or statistics or in accounting, finance, business, economics, or a related subject.
Minimum Qualifications
Job entry requirements for cost estimators vary by industry.
Personality traits helpful for this career
Cost estimators should have an aptitude for mathematics; be able to quickly analyze, compare, and interpret detailed but sometimes poorly defined information.
Quick Facts
  • About 62 percent of cost estimators work in the construction industry, and another 15 percent are employed in manufacturing industries.
  • Voluntary certification can be valuable to cost estimators; some individual employers may require professional certification for employment.
  • Very good employment opportunities are expected.
  • In construction and manufacturing, job prospects should be best for those with industry work experience and a bachelor's degree in a related field.
Compensation and Outlook
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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