Have you ever thought about becoming an electrical estimator?
Depending on where you’re 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 common no matter where you’re from.
Let’s take a closer look at the pathway to becoming an electrical estimator:
#1. Become an electrician first
Here in the UK, this is by far the most common strategy. 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.
Why is this important? Well, having basic grounding in the electrical trade gives you important context for what you’re doing as an estimator. To start with, you’ll learn what all the terms mean and what each element on a drawing is during your time as an electrician.
It’s important that you’re able to make sense of what things are and how they’re used as you won’t always get perfect drawings as an estimator. Having this background will mean you’re more likely to realise when important items are missing.
Another important point about context is that electrical estimating involves more than just “counting things.” The job requires you to provide an estimate that covers all aspects of the project that involve a cost. This includes labour costs for your workforce. Having a background on the tools helps you to understand key factors, such as situations that involve more labour versus those that don’t.
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.
In some cases, those estimators may not have started as electricians, but they have some other kind of relevant experience with the company. For example, administrative roles might expose the person to the terminology and common practices in the business.The role of the electrical estimator involves more than just “counting things” Click To Tweet
#2. Get formal training
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, while they’re not as common in the UK. There are also more formal training courses for estimators in the US than the UK (see our interview with Linda Candels, a training provider in the US here).
If you look for estimating job advertisements 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.
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.
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 RS Means Electrical Estimating Methods.
#3. Possess the right attributes
Besides electrical experience or formal training, successful estimators tend to possess some 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:
- Ability to project manage. 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.
- Confidence with managing people. The estimator role can require you to somewhat manage people, even if you don’t have direct reports. That might mean managing expectations with clients or subcontractors.
- 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.
- Time management skills. This goes hand-in-hand with those project management skills. The job involves being able to meet deadlines whilst managing competing priorities.
- Personal presentation skills. An electrical estimator often needs to attend meetings or presentations with clients and other project stakeholders. Good personal presentation is very important.
#4. Meet the right people
It’s not always “about who you know,” but sometimes it is. 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 networks 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 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.
There are different pathways to becoming an electrical estimator, depending on where you are in the world. One of the most common is to start out as an electrician, spending at least three or four years learning “the tools” and developing an understanding for electrical projects.
Here in the UK, you’d usually then find a company that is willing to train you as an estimator. Some will take on junior estimators and train them on-the-job, allowing you to learn from someone who has been in the role for a while. It’s still worth learning estimating theory for yourself though – different people will tackle situations with their own methods.
Lastly, make sure you’ve got a great CV, designed to warrant a second look from employers. Appearances matter and your CV is often the first thing they see from you. Get help from a professional CV service if you need it, although there’s plenty online to help, too.