Cost estimator salary & career outlook

If you have never heard of a cost estimator, you are not alone: These professionals have an important, but sometimes overlooked role to play in a variety of projects across many different industries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012), these professionals are also in high demand, which could spell great news for those attending cost estimator degree programs.

What cost estimators do

Cost estimators collect and analyze data so that they can estimate the amount of time, money, labor and resources required to manufacture a product, construct a structure or provide a service. According to bls.gov, they tend to work conventional hours, but may be required to travel to work sites.

Though cost estimators often specialize in one particular industry or product, their day-to-day tasks are usually quite similar, and may include:

  • Travelling to job sites to gather the information they need to perform their analyses
  • Consulting with industry experts to discuss project needs and costs
  • Identifying cost factors
  • Preparing estimates for clients
  • Developing project plans
  • Recommending ways to make a process or product more cost effective

Because cost estimators must often be able to read and interpret technical documents, operate sophisticated software and perform complex mathematical algorithms, the right training is an absolute must regardless of the industry or employer they want to pursue a job with.

How to become a cost estimator

Cost estimation is a tricky business, and employers increasingly prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree or higher. Cost estimator degree programs are ideal, though engineering, math or statistics degrees may suffice for jobs in certain fields. In many cases you can even complete your cost estimator training online. Upon graduation, bls.gov reports that most cost estimators must typically shadow more experienced professionals before assuming a more independent role within the company. This on-the-job training varies by industry and can last a few months to a few years, depending on the complexity of the role.

Cost estimator salary trends

Because of the importance of their services and the skills required to perform them, some cost estimators earn a comfortable living. Bls.gov (2012) reports that the national median cost estimator salary in 2011 was $58,460 with the middle 50 percent earning between $44,370 and $76,360. The top 10 percent of earners, however, made a national median annual salary of $95,950. A number of different factors can influence your personal earning potential. For example, bls.gov (2012) reports that those working in financial investment activities tend to earn the most ($104,100 national average), followed by oil and gas extraction ($84,120 national average) and lessors of real estate ($80,120 national average).

Location can influence your earning potential significantly. According to bls.gov (2012), the following states offered the highest average cost estimator salary in 2011:

  • Alaska ($80,700)
  • Massachusetts ($75,270)
  • New Jersey ($71,460)

Salaries also tend to improve with education and experience, according to bls.gov, so cost estimator schools may pay off for some people in the long run.

Employment outlook for cost estimators

According to bls.gov, cost estimators are one of the fastest growing professional groups in the country with a projected employment growth of 33 percent between 2010 and 2020 -- much faster than the average for all industries. The U.S. Department of Labor (dol.gov) predicts that the following states will enjoy the fastest growth in the decade preceding 2018:

  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Nebraska

Wherever you choose to live and work, investing in the right training may boost your long-term employment prospects considerably. Pursuing cost estimator training, online or otherwise, could be a good way to safeguard your future.