How to become an electrical estimator

Electrical estimating careers
How to become an electrical estimator

Have you ever thought about becoming an electrical estimator?

Depending on which life stage you’re in when reading this, there are a few different paths that you can take to get there. However, the skills, traits and personal attributes that you need to foster remain fairly consistent regardless of background.

Let’s take a closer look at the pathway to becoming an electrical estimator.

How to become an electrical estimator

1. Become an electrician first

Here in the UK, by far the most common strategy to becoming an electrical estimator is to begin as an electrician. In fact, almost all estimators whom we’ve interviewed previously (including one of our own founders) have taken this path. They spend three or four years “on the tools” before training to do estimating work.

This means that most electrical estimators have a minimum of 5 years’ experience working as either an electrician, an estimator or an electrical engineer with a well-established general contractor

Why is this important? Well, having basic grounding in the electrical trade gives you that all important context. When you’re estimating you’ll likely have a series of drawings and to decipher them, it’s useful if you have knowledge of how drawings translate into real work, out in the field. That way, you’re more likely to spot anomalies and know when you need to seek additional information.

Become an estimator

Electrical estimating involves more than just “counting”. You’ll need to be able to estimate all areas of a project; from labour costs, to equipment and specialist items. 

Most people who start out as electricians are then trained as estimators within their (or another) electrical business. This usually involves working with someone more senior who has been in the estimator role for a while. In some larger companies, a team of estimators are employed, including junior and senior estimators.

2. Take a formal electrical estimating qualification

Formal training is one thing that will vary depending on where you are in the world. For example, in the United States, apprenticeships are commonly available. There are also more formal training courses for estimators in the US than the UK (see our interview with Linda Candels on how to train as an electrical apprentice in the US).

A point to note is that there is no formal training requirement to become an electrical estimator in the UK – it’s very much up to the company and their own internal policies. Some prefer to employ people that they’re able to train up from scratch, while others simply don’t have the resources to provide extensive training. 

If you look at estimating job ads in the UK, you’ll often see job descriptions requiring that a Junior Estimator holds BTEC ONC – Electrical Engineering, and City & Guilds Level 3 qualifications. These are formal qualifications that you can seek to obtain yourself, but they’re not always necessary for the role of electrical estimator.

You can also do some self-study on estimating to get some theoretical knowledge. For a head-start, try a reputable text on electrical estimating such as RSMeans’ book Electrical Estimating Methods

3. Hone your estimating attributes and skills

Besides electrical experience or formal training, successful estimators tend to possess certain key attributes. These represent a mixture of “hard” and “soft” skills. Here are definitions of what these mean:

  • Hard skills – these are abilities that are teachable and measurable, such as your ability with mathematics, using computer software or operating equipment.
  • Soft skills – these are traits that are less measurable but help you to be good at a job. For example, communication skills, teamwork, and the ability to get along with others.

When you look at hard skills, time spent as an electrician or in training to be an electrical estimator will help with most. However, there are some you can work on outside of those environments. For example, estimating requires skill with mathematics, which isn’t always inherent in people who may not have solved an equation since school! Mathematical skills and computer literacy are important for estimators, and you’ll have a better time in training if you keep those skills developed.

As for soft skills, here are some of the attributes that are important for electrical estimators:

Project management ability

When you prepare an estimate, you’ll often find yourself needing to manage different moving parts such as subcontractors and other project stakeholders. You’ll be waiting for subcontractor quotes, replying to queries from within your company and waiting for any responses to requests for information that you have sent to the client.

Strong written and spoken communication skills

Tender documentation needs to be written professionally and clearly. This means you should write well and use appropriate spelling and grammar. Spoken communication skills are also important because electrical estimators will often have meetings about tenders or projects; because of the intricacies of estimating, you need to be pretty articulate so there are no misunderstandings on either side.

Attention to detail and the ability to stay focused 

The role of an electrical estimator involves having to pay close attention to detail – if you don’t, costly mistakes can happen, especially if they involve under-quoting for a project. Big projects involve more drawings and more time spent on preparing estimates – you need to be able to focus for long periods of time. Accuracy is also a core requirement of estimating and attention to every detail will make you more successful at your role.

IT aptitude

Estimators generally work with software packages for estimating, along with a regular assortment of software used in an office setting. New hires should have an aptitude for working with IT.

4. Adapt to key estimating roles and responsibilities

As a new estimator you may be wondering how your role will differ from more hands-on roles where you are on the tools. The traditional duties of an electrical estimator may include:

  • Prepare quantities for use in obtaining competitive quotes
  • Technical analysis of tender returns
  • Strive for the most competitive tender solution
  • Production of cost plans and budgets
  • Management of financial matters
  • Procurement of sub-contract works
  • Procurement of supply items (via Purchasing Dept)
  • Preparation of interim valuations
  • Aiding in managing interim payments to sub-contractors
  • Regular updating and managing cash flow forecasts
  • Pricing of contract variations
Become an estimator

Being able to work across all areas of the end-to-end estimating process, will help you to thrive in an estimating career.

5. Network and build relationships

The electrical estimating industry is one built on relationships and networks, so it’s important to start out knowing that this will be a key skill rather than just shutting yourself away to do the actual estimating.

When there are openings for junior estimator roles or positions available for training, being connected to the right people can mean you get an early heads-up.

You can aid your own path to an electrical estimator role by actively building your network and getting to know people in the industry. Talk to other estimators about how they got their jobs and let it be known that you’d like a career as an estimator. When people know what you’re hoping to achieve, they’re often willing to help in some way.

You can join local professional groups in your community or LinkedIn or Facebook groups for electrical estimators. It never hurts to broaden your networks, and you just never know who might be able to connect you to the right people. 

One thing that is important to remember for any network is that it’s about reciprocity. Look for what you can contribute as well as what you can get out of it.

6. Seek professional learning and development

Training and professional development can and should continue once you’ve landed in your electrical estimator role. While the estimator role itself doesn’t generally require formal qualifications, they can help in terms of moving to a higher pay grade in some companies, or to branch out with additional skills.

Some examples of how electrical estimators are advancing their professional development here in the UK include:

  • Certificate and Diploma in Site Management Level 4
  • NVQ in Project Control Levels 3 and 4 
  • NVQ in Construction Contracting Operations Levels 3 and 4

There are also various types of cards under the Construction Skills Certification Scheme that electrical estimators may qualify under. These aren’t required by law, however many companies set their own rules that require people on their job sites to hold them. It’s certainly worth looking into them if you don’t hold one already, as they can provide a foot in the door with some companies.

Another thing that any electrical estimator with three or more years of experience should look at is professional association memberships. In the UK, we have The Association of Cost Engineers, which includes roles such as risk managers and contract engineers, as well as estimators from all fields of the construction industry.

Professional memberships are good to have because they immediately indicate a certain level of experience and required knowledge. They also usually have opportunities for broadening your network and giving you access to resources that can broaden your knowledge.

Some estimators also opt to complete some post-graduate level study. For example, they might complete a Master’s degree in a field such as Construction Project and Cost Management, Construction Management or Quantity Surveying.

Typical pay for an electrical estimator

What sort of pay can you expect from an electrical estimating role? This is variable depending upon the company and level of responsibility, but we took a look to establish a typical salary range.

For the UK, we found the salary range to be from £30k to £90k. Typically, junior estimators make £30k to £40k, while the average salary for a seasoned estimator is around £65k. At the £90k end, estimators tended to be part of management or operate as a project manager too.

For the US, we found the salary range to be $46k to $96k, with an average being somewhere around $65k. You can expect that juniors or trainees are at the lower end of the range.

Different roles within estimating

If you’ve been working as an electrical estimator for a while you may be wondering what’s next for your career.

There are a number of job roles that might be a natural progression for electrical estimators, depending on what their interests and career goals are. You might also choose something adjacent to electrical estimating: Countfire Founder Will worked as an electrical estimator before moving into a founder for our takeoff software which means that he now runs a software company that helps electrical estimators.

Here are some other job roles that you may progress upwards to as part of your electrical estimating career:

Project team leader

A project team leader has overall responsibility for ensuring that a construction or electrical project gets completed on-time and within budget.  This can include a range of tasks, depending on the employer. For example, some project team leaders will take a more hands-on role, where they help on the tools too, while others take a more supervisory role.

Project team leaders may get into the role by having some kind of relevant experience (such as electrical estimator work), by working their way through an apprenticeship and other roles first, or by undertaking qualifications. Such qualifications usually include specific, construction-related undergraduate or postgraduate degrees.

The project team leader must be an excellent communicator, organiser and motivator. They organise rosters, delegate work and monitor deadlines. They might be involved in checking and signing off work as well as pitching in where needed. The project team leader may or may not have client contact, depending on the size of the company. A larger company will usually have team leaders in the field who liaise with other client-facing management roles.

The team leader should also monitor the performance of team members and ensure they are following correct policies and procedures. A big part of the role can also be anticipating needs – the team leader knows where the project is at in terms of the expected timeline and can ensure that the correct equipment, materials or personnel are available for the next step.

The salary range depends on your level of experience and responsibility. A very new project team leader has an average salary range of £19,000 to £25,000, while a senior project team leader averages £35,000 to £40,000. This may not be very different from an electrical estimator salary, however it may be a move to broaden career experience and lead toward more senior management roles.

Quality assurance manager

There are a huge number of standards to meet and maintain in the construction world and doing so is a key goal of the quality assurance manager role. This goes for all of the company’s services and activities – it’s up to the QS manager to carry out inspections and record detailed evidence that will show those standards are being met.

Depending on the company, you may require some qualifications to get the quality assurance manager role. Related courses include those that directly deal with construction or engineering quality assurance, or adjacent qualifications such as business administration or product management.

In some areas, apprenticeships exist that cover the quality assurance job role. You might also come into the role due to related experience, such as working in an electrical estimator role. This gives you exposure to the construction site and the requirements of projects.

The key skills required of quality assurance managers include strong analytical skills, mathematical aptitude and knowledge of quality requirements. There will be some client contact, mainly to help determine exactly what their needs are. This means a quality assurance manager should have excellent communication and interpersonal skills, too. Report and technical writing are also key parts of the job, so clear written communication is a must.

In terms of salary, it really depends on the employer and location. Salaries are approximately on-par with what electrical estimators can expect at the various levels of skill and experience. Newly trained quality assurance managers have an average salary range of £25,000 to £30,000. An experienced manager can expect something in the range of £45,000 to £60,000.

Electrical contracts manager

The purpose of the contracts manager role is to identify appropriate projects for the company, secure the contract and project, and often, manage the project as well. As a main point of contact for clients, contracts managers must have excellent interpersonal skills, including communication and negotiation skills.

The job involves assessing and improving the contract process, as well as dealing with any contractual issues that may arise during the project. This also means heavy involvement with the crews doing the work, often going between the job site and an office. 

Other skills include managing the budget and being able to make agreements with clients if anything needs to change budget-wise or within the scope creep. The contracts manager also plays a role in agreeing to the timeline with clients and will usually be involved in conversations with the client if anything is going to affect the timeline for delivery.

Developing project proposals is a major responsibility of the contracts manager and really is a skill strongly associated with the estimating role. In both cases, the job holder needs to have a strong background knowledge of how the project operates and the skills and materials involved. 

In terms of salary, the contracts manager role might be seen as more of a sideways move, depending on where you already sit on the pay scale. Newly-trained contracts managers tend to earn a salary range of £25,000 to £35,000, while senior, chartered or master contracts managers have an average salary range of £45,000 to £70,000.

Final thoughts

An electrical estimating career is demanding, but it’s a strong career choice that offers a wealth of experiences and different options. 

For further reading, you may also like this interview with Phil Kober, a Product Specialist at Countfire on his successful electrical estimating career background.