Cost Estimators

Quick Facts: Cost Estimators
2017 Median Pay $63,110 per year 
$30.34 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Moderate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2016 217,900
Job Outlook, 2016-26 11% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 22,900


Join Nextstep Career Mentorship Programs in Cost Estimators with our partners:

Cost Estimators Career, Salary and Education Information

What Cost Estimators Do

Cost estimators collect and analyze data in order to estimate the time, money, materials, and labor required to manufacture a product, construct a building, or provide a service. They generally specialize in a particular product or industry.


Cost estimators

Duties of cost estimators

Cost estimators typically do the following:

  • Identify factors affecting costs, such as production time, materials, and labor

  • Read blueprints and technical documents in order to prepare estimates

  • Collaborate with engineers, architects, clients, and contractors

  • Calculate, analyze, and adjust estimates

  • Recommend ways to reduce costs

  • Work with sales teams to prepare estimates and bids for clients

  • Maintain records of estimated and actual costs

Accurately estimating the costs of construction and manufacturing projects is vital to the survival of businesses. Cost estimators provide managers with the information they need in order to submit competitive contract bids or price products appropriately.

Estimators analyze production processes to determine how much time, money, and labor a project needs. Their estimates account for many factors, including allowances for wasted material, bad weather, shipping delays, and other variables that can increase costs and lower profits.

In building construction, cost estimators use software to simulate the construction process and evaluate the costs of design choices. They often consult databases and their own records to compare the costs of similar projects.

The following are examples of types of cost estimators:

Construction cost estimators prepare estimates for buildings, roads, and other construction projects. They may calculate the total cost of building a bridge or commercial shopping center, or they may calculate the cost of just one component, such as the foundation. They identify costs of elements such as raw materials and labor, and they may set a timeline for how long they expect the project to take. Although many work directly for construction firms, some work for contractors and engineering firms.

Manufacturing cost estimators calculate the costs of developing, producing, or redesigning a company’s goods or services. For example, a cost estimator working for a home appliance manufacturer may determine a new dishwasher’s production costs, allowing managers to make production decisions.

Other workers, such as operations research analysts and construction managers, may also estimate costs in the course of their usual duties.

Work Environment for Cost Estimators

Cost estimators held about 217,900 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of cost estimators were as follows:

Specialty trade contractors: 37%

Construction of buildings: 18%

Manufacturing: 12%

Automotive repair and maintenance: 7%

Heavy and civil engineering construction: 5%

Work Schedules

Most cost estimators worked full time in 2016, and about 1 in 4 worked more than 40 hours per week.

How to Become a Cost Estimator

Most cost estimators need a bachelor’s degree, although some workers with several years of experience in construction may qualify without a bachelor’s degree.


Employers generally prefer candidates who have a bachelor’s degree.

Construction cost estimators typically need a bachelor’s degree in an industry-related field, such as construction management or engineering. Manufacturing cost estimators typically need a bachelor’s degree in engineering, business, or finance.


Most cost estimators receive on-the-job training, which may include instruction in cost estimation techniques and software, as well as industry-specific software, such as building information modeling (BIM) and computer-aided design (CAD) software. Most cost estimators receive on-the-job training, which may include instruction in cost estimation techniques and software, as well as industry-specific software, such as building information modeling (BIM) and computer-aided design (CAD) software.

Important Qualities 

Analytical skills. Cost estimators consider and evaluate different construction and manufacturing methods and options to determine the most cost-effective solution that meets the required specifications.

Communication skills. Cost estimators write comprehensive reports, which often help managers make production decisions.

Detail oriented. Cost estimators must pay attention to details because minor changes can greatly affect the overall cost of a project or product.

Math skills. Cost estimators calculate labor, material, and equipment cost estimates for construction projects. They use software, such as spreadsheets and databases, and they need excellent math skills to calculate these estimates accurately.

Time-management skills. Cost estimators often work on fixed deadlines, so they must plan in advance and work efficiently.

SALARIES FOR Cost Estimators 

The median annual wage for cost estimators was $63,110 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,000, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $106,010.

In May 2017, the median annual wages for cost estimators in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Heavy and civil engineering construction: $70,570

Construction of buildings: $66,250

Specialty trade contractors: $63,650

Manufacturing: $60,440

Automotive repair and maintenance: $53,610


Employment of cost estimators is projected to grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster the average for all occupations. There will continue to be demand for cost estimators because companies need accurate cost projections to ensure that their products and services are profitable. Growth in the construction industry is expected to create the majority of new jobs for cost estimators, particularly in the specialty trade contractors industries.

Job Prospects 

Overall job prospects should be good. Knowledge of building information modeling (BIM) and computer-aided design (CAD) software may improve job prospects, especially for those seeking employment in construction.

Jobs of cost estimators working in construction, like those of workers in many other trades in the construction industry, are sensitive to changing economic conditions.

Employment projections data for Cost Estimators, 2016-2026:

Employment, 2016: 217,900

Projected Employment, 2026: 240,800

Change, 2016-2026: +11%, +22,900

Careers Related to cost estimators

Accountants and Auditors

Accountants and auditors prepare and examine financial records. They ensure that financial records are accurate and that taxes are paid properly and on time. Accountants and auditors assess financial operations and work to help ensure that organizations run efficiently.

Budget Analysts

Budget analysts help public and private institutions organize their finances. They prepare budget reports and monitor institutional spending.

Claims Adjusters, Appraisers, Examiners, and Investigators

Claims adjusters, appraisers, examiners, and investigators evaluate insurance claims. They decide whether an insurance company must pay a claim, and if so, how much.

Construction Managers

Construction managers plan, coordinate, budget, and supervise construction projects from start to finish.

Financial Analysts

Financial analysts provide guidance to businesses and individuals making investment decisions. They assess the performance of stocks, bonds, and other types of investments.

Financial Managers

Financial managers are responsible for the financial health of an organization. They produce financial reports, direct investment activities, and develop strategies and plans for the long-term financial goals of their organization.

Industrial Production Managers

Industrial production managers oversee the daily operations of manufacturing and related plants. They coordinate, plan, and direct the activities used to create a wide range of goods, such as cars, computer equipment, or paper products.


Logisticians analyze and coordinate an organization’s supply chain—the system that moves a product from supplier to consumer. They manage the entire life cycle of a product, which includes how a product is acquired, allocated, and delivered.

Operations Research Analysts

Operations research analysts use advanced mathematical and analytical methods to help organizations investigate complex issues, identify and solve problems, and make better decisions.

Accountants and AuditorsBachelor's degree$69,350
Budget AnalystsBachelor's degree$75,240
Claims Adjusters, Appraisers, Examiners, and Investigators$64,690
Construction ManagersBachelor's degree$91,370
Financial AnalystsBachelor's degree$84,300
Financial ManagersBachelor's degree$125,080
Industrial Production ManagersBachelor's degree$100,580
LogisticiansBachelor's degree$74,590
Operations Research AnalystsBachelor's degree$81,390


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Cost Estimators,
on the Internet at