Cost Estimators Job Description, Degree Requirements and Salary Potential

Cost estimators compile information used by businesses to determine whether or not a new project or product will be profitable.

By Alma Abreu
Posted 2011

Cost estimators are responsible for producing information needed by businesses and management to bid on contracts or determine the profitability and feasibility of a new product or project. They are involved in collecting and analyzing data that affect costs which can include time, labor, materials used, technology and special equipment. Their tasks can vary depending on the industry and size of a proposed project.

Since estimating often involves complex mathematical calculations, estimators frequently use computer software to produce accurate and efficient estimates. For some larger projects, there may be more than one cost estimator involved. Those working in manufacturing may be assigned to a specific department.


  • The work duties of a cost estimator may vary greatly depending on the industry.
  • Cost estimating courses are included in many higher education degree programs including civil engineering, construction management and construction engineering technology.
  • Estimators work 40 hours per week and may also be required to work overtime.
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in this field is expected to grow much faster than average through 2018.
  • Most new cost estimator jobs will be in the construction industry.

Work Environment for Cost Estimators

Cost estimators work mainly in offices but may be required to make visits to specific factor or construction sites. Depending on the industry, they may need to frequently travel from their company’s main office to its subsidiaries or subcontractors. They typically work 40 hours per week as well as overtime hours. They may have to work under stress and pressure to meet deadlines. In addition, pressure can come from the need to produce accurate bids, as this can affect whether or not a company is awarded a bid or loses money while working on a project.

Education, Training and Licensing

Specific employment requirements are different in each industry. Cost estimating is usually part of a degree program at colleges and universities for civil engineering and industrial engineering, information systems development, construction management or construction engineering technology majors. Many master’s degree programs in construction management or construction science include cost estimating courses.

In manufacturing and construction, companies prefer to hire cost estimators who hold a bachelor’s degree. Manufacturing employers give preference to applicants who hold a degree in engineering, operations research, physical science, mathematics, statistics, finance, accounting, economics, business or a similar area.

It is also possible for a construction worker with experience to become a cost estimator. Construction employers increasingly give preference to job applicants who hold a degree in construction management, construction science or building science which allow students to take courses in cost estimating. Estimators working in the construction industry usually have done prior construction or gained experience through internships. In certain situations, employers will hire an individual who has a number of years of work experience in place of a degree. Often, this individual has taken courses in the field or is working on earning an associate’s degree. Job seekers who possess knowledge and skills in the area of construction equipment and materials, costs, electrical work, plumbing or masonry have greater opportunities for employment in this field.

Since companies have their own procedures for producing estimates, professionals working in this field often receive on-the-job training. Entry-level applicants can acquire expertise by working with an experienced estimator and may accompany them to a construction or factory site where they can assist the estimator in gathering the information needed for a particular project.

Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook and Earnings for Cost Estimators

According to research published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), cost estimators held approximately 209,130 jobs in May 2014. Most of these jobs were for building equipment contractors, nonresidential build construction, foundation, structure and building exterior contractors. Other jobs were for building finishing contractors and residential building construction.

Employment in this field is forecasted by the BLS to grow much faster than average by 26% until 2022. Most new cost estimator jobs will be in the construction industry. In particular, the BLS reports that construction of bridges, highways, streets, subway systems, airports, water and sewage systems and electric power plants and transmission lines will create a demand for cost estimators. Increases in the population will also create a demand for residential homes, schools, hospitals and restaurant that will require the need for cost estimators.

BLS records for May 2014 indicate that the average annual wage for cost estimators was $64,340. The middle 50% earned between $45,130 and $78,760. While the lowest 10% had a yearly salary of $34,450 or less, the highest 10% earned upwards of $99,370 annually.

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