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Job: Construction estimator

The role: Construction estimators are responsible for quoting the cost of a construction project during the bidding process, and, if successful in their bid, controlling costs during the lifetime of that project.

“Construction estimating is a sub-discipline of construction management,” says Christopher Willis, professor and co-ordinator of the construction management program at George Brown College in Toronto. “They receive project drawings, review them, study them, and then figure out how the thing is going to be built, and based on that they’re able to estimate the cost of the activities needed to complete that project.”

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Prof. Willis says that most construction estimators work in-house for building contractors, either independently within smaller firms or as part of a larger team within larger organizations. Some also monitor budgets and manage costs for continuing projects as independent contractors.

“If they’re working as a construction management consultant they would participate in the development of the project when it’s being designed, and provide inputs to the design in terms of analyzing the costs of the building elements, so that the design is within the owner’s budget,” adds Prof. Willis.

“Once the project has been bid and they have won it, if there’s a variation in the work or a claim they would have to develop estimates associated with that claim to support the request for either an extension of time or more money.”

Construction estimators typically work behind a desk, but may also be required to visit construction sites to ensure projects are able to meet previously quoted deadlines and budgets.

Salary: According to the Canadian Job Bank, construction estimators earn a median hourly pay of $32, or about $66,500 a year, but professional designations can have a significant impact on earning potential.

PayScale.com found the average construction estimator in Canada earns an average of about $59,500 per year, but that figure increase to nearly $78,500 for construction estimators who have obtained a Professional Quantity Surveyor (PQS) designation, and nearly $83,000 for those who have obtained a Construction Estimator Certified (CEC) designation.”

PayScale.com found the average construction estimator in Canada earns about $59,500 a year, but that figure increases to nearly $78,500 for construction estimators who have obtained a Professional Quantity Surveyor (PQS) designation, and nearly $83,000 for those who have obtained a Construction Estimator Certified (CEC) designation.

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“In some cases you continue progressing and become the director of virtual design and construction for a large company, or the manager of the estimating and bidding department,” say Prof. Willis, adding that annual salaries can reach as high as $140,000 in those more senior positions.

Education: As a sub-discipline of construction management, there are no degrees or diplomas specific to construction estimators. Those interested in a career as a construction estimator can either pursue a bachelor of technology degree in construction management, or an advanced construction management college diploma.

Furthermore, those who obtain an undergraduate degree in a related field — such as civil engineering — can also pursue a master’s degree in construction management as a pathway towards a career in estimating.

Prof. Willis adds that graduates have the option to apply for a Construction Estimator Certified or a Professional Quantity Surveyor designation administered by the Canadian Institute of Quantity Surveyors. “To maintain that they would have to do some hours every year of professional development,” he says. “It’s not a legal requirement, but owners know if they hire someone with that designation they’re not only coming with an undergraduate degree, but they’ve been certified as adhering to best practices.”

Job prospects: With a construction boom in many parts of the country, Prof. Willis says most of his students are able to secure employment before graduation. “In the coming years you will have more activity in the construction industry, and that will create a demand for construction managers, and more specifically, for estimators,” he says.

Challenges: Construction estimators need to balance the need to provide a competitive bid for projects prior to their construction with the need to stay within that budget during construction.

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“If you lose the bid you’ve got to try even harder or eventually the firm will fold,” says Prof. Willis. “If your bids are too low and you win the work and the costs escalate, you still have to complete the work, but you don’t have enough money to do it, which leads to claims and other problems.”

Why they do it: Despite the potential stress., Prof. Willis says it’s very gratifying to win bids on behalf of the company. He adds that the role is also more stable than other positions in the construction industry. “The estimator is usually the last person to be let go in a company, because you need them to win the work,” he says.

Misconceptions: When construction projects fail to meet previously estimated budgets and timelines, estimators often bear the brunt of the blame. In fact, delays and added costs are often due to factors beyond their control.

“In quite a large number of cases it really has to do with changes occurring throughout the process, or other participants not meeting their responsibilities,” Prof. Mr. Willis says.

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