Primarily employed in the construction or manufacturing industries, cost estimators help business owners and managers put together competitive bids for contracts, projects and products by forecasting the costs, scope and timeline involved. They also support profitability goals by analyzing projects for potential profit. If you’d like to prepare for a career as a cost estimator, enrolling in an MBA program with a specialization in Accounting and Finance can be the first step.

Cost Estimator Job Outlook

According to national data published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2011, employment for cost estimators is projected to increase much faster than the average occupation through 2018. A growing job rate may not guarantee employment in the industry. Prospective students are encouraged to conduct independent research regarding actual job growth rates, which vary according to location, education and experience.

Cost Estimator Job Duties

To determine a project’s cost, scope and duration, a construction industry cost estimator typically collects and analyzes available data on applicable factors, including materials, machinery requirements, labor costs and location. They may visit a construction site to study access, availability of utilities, topography, drainage and other relevant cost elements.

Typically, a cost estimator will determine what materials are needed for a project, based on size and design specifications, along with the labor required to complete it. They frequently calculate subcontractor costs, as well. Before completing the estimating process, these financial professionals must take into consideration how the type of equipment and materials needed, the number of staff required, possible weather and material delays, and other unknown factors could affect costs.

In some firms, cost estimators specialize in certain areas of manufacturing or construction, such as electrical, excavation, or heating and air conditioning. Other companies require cost estimators to prepare complete bids, including equipment, labor, materials, taxes, insurance, subcontractors and markup. Often, cost estimators will help manage and control a project’s costs, and track actual costs as the project proceeds. They may take a lead role in questioning changes in pricing and negotiating claims.

Many cost estimators work in manufacturing, often in the engineering or pricing department. They analyze the costs associated with developing, redesigning and producing products. Working with blueprints or conceptual drawings of new projects, the cost estimator first considers the machining operations, tools and materials required, prepares a parts list and determines the most efficient method of producing the product. They gather pricing from parts manufacturers and decide whether purchasing or manufacturing parts is more profitable. Finally, they calculate time for design, fabrication, manufacturing parts and correcting possible problems.

Additional job duties for cost estimators include using special software to run complex mathematical calculations, preparing reports and advising management on appropriate actions in the construction or manufacturing process in accordance with organizational goals.

Cost estimators usually work in office environments, and 40 hours per week is typical. At times, overtime may be required, especially when bids are due. In some industries, travel is required to visit job sites, manufacturing facilities and subcontractor locations.

Potential Salary for Cost Estimators

According to a 2010 national survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor, the average annual salary for cost estimators was $62,060, while the middle 50% earned between $43,920 and $75,790. The lowest 10% earned approximately  $34,100, while those in the highest 10% bracket brought in around $95,620 per year. Because salary potential may vary depending on location, education and experience, prospective students are encouraged to conduct independent research to determine actual earning potential.   

Education and Training for Cost Estimators

Required education and training for starting toward a cost estimator career vary according to industry. Construction and manufacturing employers increasingly require at least a bachelor’s degree, but some employers may show preference to candidates with advanced knowledge, industry experience, or master’s degrees. Engineering, finance, accounting, business or a related discipline is typically preferred.

Individuals currently employed in construction, software, manufacturing or a host of other industries, or wish to enter these fields, can work toward a career as a cost estimator by enrolling in an MBA degree with a specialization in Accounting and Finance. Coursework typically includes essentials of business development, managerial accounting, financial management policy and strategic cost management.

Employers can be confident that professionals who have earned an MBA with a specialization in Accounting and Finance are able to:

  • Apply accounting data to help a firm achieve managerial and organizational goals.
  • Make decisions and solve real-world business problems in times of uncertainty.
  • Manage risk using financial, statistical and economic data.
  • Clearly communicate financial data to a wide audience.
  • Leverage advanced skills and knowledge to succeed as a cost estimator.

Your New Career Path Could Include Becoming a Cost Estimator

Do you have strong mathematical, analytical and problem-solving skills, along with excellent written and verbal communication skills? Do you enjoy finding the best way to approach a project or solve a puzzle? If so, you may be a good candidate for a cost estimator career. Along with sound decision-making ability, strong business skills and leadership ability, earning an MBA with a specialization in Accounting and Finance could prepare you to pursue career opportunities in a variety of fields, including breaking into manufacturing or construction as a cost estimator!

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