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Cost Estimators

At a Glance

  • Accuracy and cost savings are their goals
  • Research time and costs for different projects
  • Work with contractors, suppliers, project managers, and vendors
  • May work overtime to meet project deadlines
  • Usually have a bachelor's degree plus experience

Career summary

Cost estimators calculate how much time and money it will take to complete projects.

Cost estimators are sometimes known as cost engineers or construction estimators.

#from 1626, 3/11/15 lh

#check 3/19/19 lh

Estimators talk to project managers to learn what they want to build or manufacture. They may research costs for projects ranging from construction to computer software. Their goal is to put together an accurate estimate of the cost of a project.

Cost estimators read bid proposals and look at blueprints and drawings. They estimate how long it takes workers to finish tasks. They research pay levels, calculate that cost, and add the cost of insurance and taxes. They check prices for supplies, equipment, and parts. They estimate delays that can arise from bad weather or late deliveries. Estimators use computers and cost estimating software programs to help them estimate project costs.

Cost estimators make a complete list of everything the project will need, including:

Estimators compare vendor prices for supplies and parts. If the parts are expensive, estimators compare the cost of buying them to the cost of making them.

Some estimators work for subcontractors who prepare bid proposals for parts of projects. Other estimators review bids from subcontractors and decide who is offering the best price and service.

Construction estimators visit sites to better estimate costs. They note what services are available at the site. Once the project is underway, they keep track of what the actual costs are against the estimate. If estimates are not accurate, costs may go over budget and projects can be late. They keep records and write reports about the project's progress. They also keep a directory of suppliers, vendors, and contractors used during projects.

Related careers

This career is part of the Architecture and Construction cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to cost estimators.

Common work activities

Cost estimators perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, cost estimators:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Cost estimators frequently:

It is important for cost estimators to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for cost estimators to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Cost estimators need to:


Reason and problem solve

Use math and science

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a cost estimator, you typically need to:

Education after high school

Educational requirements vary by industry. In the construction industry, a college degree is not required. However, employers increasingly prefer cost estimators with a bachelor's degree. If you want to work in the construction industry, recommended areas of study are architecture, construction management, construction science, and engineering.

A bachelor's degree is more likely to be required in the manufacturing industry. Recommended majors for this industry are business management, engineering, and manufacturing technology.

Some of these majors, such as construction management, include cost estimating as part of the course work. You can also take classes in cost estimating at many technical schools, community colleges, or universities.

Work experience

Most construction cost estimators have years of experience working in carpentry, plumbing, or other trades.

You can get experience on a construction crew or in a manufacturing plant while you are in college. These jobs help you become familiar with the steps, materials, and procedures used in the work.

On-the-job training

Cost estimators receive training on the job. This is because each employer has its own costing methods and standards. As a new estimator, you assist experienced workers with routine tasks. This way you become familiar with the steps in estimating costs. You go to job sites or the factory floor and observe the work. You learn to take measurements, calculate the amount of materials from blueprints, and research material prices. Training may last up to one year.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Requirements vary with the employer and project. During times of labor shortages, trades workers can enter construction estimating by having training on the job. Short-term classroom training with some field experience will satisfy some employers. A two-year degree in construction management, plus experience, will qualify people for many jobs.

Certain employers require four-year degrees in civil engineering or math. All cost estimating jobs with the federal government require a four-year degree. Software and manufacturing firms often require a bachelor's degree in engineering, physical science, operations research, math, or statistics.

Employers look for applicants who have experience with their product or service. Employers also look for applicants who have skills in presenting ideas, get along well with others, and are confident. In addition, estimators should have computer skills. They should be able to use estimation software, spreadsheets, and word processing applications.

Employers in construction look for a stable work history in a construction trade and a thorough knowledge of the costs involved in building. Applicants with related work experience and knowledge of the construction or manufacturing industries will fare best. Large construction firms prefer workers with a degree in construction management or engineering. Some cost estimators are also required to have published at least one article or paper related to cost estimating.

Certification may be required for some positions. Certification is available through the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering (AACE) and the American Society of Professional Estimators listed in the Other Resources section of this description. Certification requirements vary, but generally estimators must have between four and eight years estimating experience, prepare a technical paper, and pass a written examination.

#Verfified that these assns still exist and offer certification, 3/22/11 lh & 3/12/12 & 2/28/14, 3/29/16 cj.


Employers look for workers who are organized, able to work under pressure, and also capable of working alone or with a team when necessary. Keep computer and math skills as advanced as possible. Good customer service skills are needed. Part-time work with a construction or manufacturing firm is beneficial. Drafting skills may also improve your chances to be hired. Certification or membership with a professional association may be helpful.

Costs to workers

Cost estimators may wish to join a professional association, which may have annual dues. If they are required by their employer or choose to become certified, they must pay an examination and renewal fees for continuing certification.

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Cost estimators (SOC 13-1051)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $21.23 $26.97 $34.82 $46.30 $58.15
Monthly $3,679 $4,674 $6,034 $8,024 $10,077
Yearly $44,160 $56,100 $72,420 $96,310 $120,950
    Bellingham Hourly $22.27 $26.54 $31.53 $36.87 $41.54
Monthly $3,859 $4,599 $5,464 $6,390 $7,199
Yearly $46,330 $55,203 $65,588 $76,697 $86,410
    Bremerton-Silverdale Hourly $18.37 $25.65 $30.04 $36.81 $59.01
Monthly $3,184 $4,445 $5,206 $6,379 $10,226
Yearly $38,205 $53,342 $62,493 $76,570 $122,749
    Clarkston-Lewiston Hourly $17.53 $24.83 $29.07 $34.32 $43.69
Monthly $3,038 $4,303 $5,038 $5,948 $7,571
Yearly $36,468 $51,658 $60,482 $71,385 $90,876
    Kennewick-Richland Hourly $17.08 $21.25 $36.58 $56.03 $67.40
Monthly $2,960 $3,683 $6,339 $9,710 $11,680
Yearly $35,531 $44,208 $76,085 $116,561 $140,195
    Longview Hourly $17.86 $25.78 $35.51 $45.18 $57.55
Monthly $3,095 $4,468 $6,154 $7,830 $9,973
Yearly $37,157 $53,624 $73,870 $93,963 $119,714
    Mount Vernon-Anacortes Hourly $23.07 $31.17 $36.05 $40.81 $60.72
Monthly $3,998 $5,402 $6,247 $7,072 $10,523
Yearly $47,975 $64,832 $74,973 $84,881 $126,312
    Olympia-Tumwater Hourly $20.82 $25.47 $31.11 $42.39 $48.59
Monthly $3,608 $4,414 $5,391 $7,346 $8,421
Yearly $43,295 $52,989 $64,706 $88,166 $101,078
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $24.45 $29.48 $38.05 $49.56 $60.83
Monthly $4,237 $5,109 $6,594 $8,589 $10,542
Yearly $50,874 $61,329 $79,147 $103,099 $126,515
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $18.12 $22.54 $29.80 $37.88 $52.19
Monthly $3,140 $3,906 $5,164 $6,565 $9,045
Yearly $37,700 $46,874 $61,975 $78,799 $108,549
    Vancouver Hourly $21.09 $27.27 $35.38 $44.24 $52.93
Monthly $3,655 $4,726 $6,131 $7,667 $9,173
Yearly $43,875 $56,711 $73,602 $92,011 $110,091
    Walla Walla Hourly $16.86 $21.64 $25.46 $34.03 $39.23
Monthly $2,922 $3,750 $4,412 $5,897 $6,799
Yearly $35,059 $45,023 $52,975 $70,767 $81,584
    Wenatchee Hourly $15.90 $18.27 $23.08 $35.64 $41.21
Monthly $2,755 $3,166 $4,000 $6,176 $7,142
Yearly $33,082 $37,999 $48,008 $74,116 $85,722
    Yakima Hourly $19.69 $21.64 $24.80 $34.28 $44.10
Monthly $3,412 $3,750 $4,298 $5,941 $7,643
Yearly $40,956 $45,024 $51,580 $71,306 $91,716
United States Hourly $18.30 $23.97 $30.79 $40.38 $51.90
Monthly $3,171 $4,154 $5,336 $6,998 $8,994
Yearly $38,060 $49,850 $64,040 $84,000 $107,940

Pay varies with the size and type of project or employer. In general, cost estimators who work on large construction projects earn higher wages. Cost estimators who work with teams of software developers earn some of the highest wages in this occupation.

Benefits vary with the size and type of employer. Cost estimators who work for large firms often receive health insurance, paid leave, and a retirement plan. Those who work part time or for small firms may not receive benefits.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook

In Washington, the outlook depends on economic conditions and the amount of construction, manufacturing, and government activity.

The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Cost Estimators (SOC 13-1051)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 5,673 19.8% 16.1% 835
    Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan Counties 84 22.6% 13.4% 13
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 61 14.8% 8.6% 8
    Benton and Franklin Counties 281 21.0% 15.0% 41
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 234 16.7% 11.9% 32
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 429 21.0% 15.2% 65
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 228 21.5% 14.1% 35
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 270 21.5% 14.6% 41
    King County 2,189 22.4% 19.6% 335
    Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania, and Yakima Counties 111 18.9% 13.8% 16
    Pierce County 643 17.6% 15.2% 91
    Snohomish County 691 14.2% 12.4% 91
    Spokane County 355 21.4% 13.9% 53
United States 217,400 8.6% 5.2% 24,200

National employment

About half of all cost estimators work in the construction industry. Many others work in manufacturing.

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for this occupation will be strong. Many new jobs for cost estimators will be created as companies want to make sure that new products and services are profitable. Growth in the construction industry will create the majority of new jobs.

Roads, highways, and bridges constantly need repair. In addition, as the population grows, more homes, stores, and schools will be needed. As construction projects become more complex, demand for cost estimators will increase.

Job prospects are best for those with a degree in construction science, construction management, or building science and work experience. Those with experience in construction software, such as computer-aided design software (CAD) will have good prospects as well. Construction is also sensitive to the economy, when the economy is doing well there will be more need for construction related occupations.

Other resources

American Society of Professional Estimators (external link)
2525 Perimeter Place Drive, Suite 103
Nashville, TN 37214
APA-The Engineered Wood Association (external link)
7011 South 19th Street
Tacoma, WA 98466
Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering (external link)
1265 Suncrest Towne Centre Drive
Morgantown, WV 26505
Engineer Girl! (external link)
National Academy of Engineering
International Cost Estimating and Analysis Association (external link)
4115 Annendale Rd
Suite 306
Annendale, VA 22003
National Association of Women in Construction (external link)
327 South Adams Street
Fort Worth, TX 76104


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupation

Holland occupational clusters