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What Makes An Employee an Estimator?

I received a call from someone interested in one of my workshops. This individual told me that he was an estimator and needed some software training. After a twenty-minute conversation, I asked myself, “Why did this individual consider himself an estimator?”

Let me state this clearly, learning to become an estimator is not an entry level position. An individual must know the difference between a locknut and a wire nut and the difference between conduit and a condulet – and much more.

How can an individual be considered an estimator with no estimator training, no experience, and no estimating software experience? In the electrical trade, an individual typically serves a four-year or five-year apprenticeship program before being considered a journeyman. The program allows for practical trade experience in the field, while at the same time studying AC theory and the NEC in the classroom.

So why do some view the position of estimator differently? Why should an individual be given the title “Estimator”? Is it because of:
  1. His boss told him he was an estimator?
  2. He was hired into a position of estimator?
  3. The sign on the office door states it?
  4. Business card states it?
  5. He works in the estimating department?
  6. He owns estimating tools?

What would you think of an individual who told you that he or she was a doctor, yet had no training, and no experience?  And, this individual informed you that they had a business card that stated he was a doctor, his office door stated he or she was a doctor, and he or she even worked at the hospital.
Would you allow this individual to perform by-pass surgery on you or one of your loved ones?  I think everyone knows the answer to that question.  The results could be devastating or even fatal.  As soon as electrical contractors use the same standard for estimators, as we do for heart surgeons, the fewer fatalities will occur. Estimating is as vital to contracting as heart surgery is for survival.
No individual can perform the responsibilities of an estimator until they have been properly trained. When a company hires someone untrained and inexperienced to fill the position of estimator, I think the correct title would be estimator trainee or symbol counter, not estimator. 
Just as there are electrician classifications, there are estimating department classifications.

Let’s look at estimating departmental positions:

  1. Estimator trainee – no training, no experience, yet has electrical field experience. Basically, this employee could count selected symbols. Even there is risk in this, especially on renovation projects.
  2. Junior estimator – trained in the fundamentals of estimating and estimating software. Main responsibility – quantifying. 0 – 3 years’ experience.
  3. Estimator – same as a junior estimator, knows how to identify labor unit adjustments and labor factors, can analyze estimate and make accurate adjustments to total labor hours for an accurate estimate labor total. 3 – 10 years’ experience.
  4. Senior estimator – same as estimator, but understands the market, should be able to properly and completely summarize the estimate. 10+ years’ experience.
  5. Chief estimator – same as senior estimator but has knowledge of company’s overhead and profit markup margins. He or she decides which projects will be estimated. Has the authority to put the final price and sell the project to the client. The chief estimator knows the company’s labor resources Should also be able to lead those under his leadership. 15+ years’ experience.

Company structure and their markets may cause a company’s departmental positions to vary. Titles mean very little in the world of estimating. Knowledge, experience, expertise, and passion about producing quality estimates that will yield a profit should be the focus. 
Placing someone in your estimating department with no professional training is detrimental to a company’s well-being. Everyone needs to function and produce at a high level of accuracy and efficiency. Without proper training, bad habits are learned from others who have not been trained. Bad habits are very hard to break!
Most jobs that are “train as you go” are positions where poor performance is not costly, just annoying. However, poor performance in estimating is costly in more ways than one.

Remember, estimating is expensive, poor estimating is costly, but quality estimating is profitable.