Are you considering becoming an electrical estimator?

There’s definitely a strong need in the industry for good electrical estimators. Here in the UK, estimators tend to have worked as electricians first, but in the US, there are training programs specifically dedicated to electrical estimators.

If you’re thinking about becoming an electrical estimator, what can you expect of the job? Here are a few of our thoughts:

Free download: Where to find electrical estimating roles

Training and onboarding

What can you expect from training or onboarding into an electrical estimator role? Here in the UK, you will likely be “on the tools” first. In fact, most of the job descriptions you see looking for “junior” estimators will state something like “electrical background is highly desirable.”

The point is that if you have that background as an electrician, you can understand the context of the job. You know what terms and symbols mean, and you understand what each component is. As an estimator, this can give you an advantage because you can also quickly spot if a specification is incomplete or doesn’t make sense.

When you move into a junior estimator role, you can expect that your training will generally be on-the-job. Usually, junior roles are paired with a senior estimator for training purposes, so that you can learn the processes and procedures from someone experienced. 

This will usually start out with the basics of what must be included in an estimate and how to make those calculations. Gradually, you get given more responsibilities as your competence grows, until you can quote jobs yourself. In the early stages, a senior estimator will probably double-check your work. Below is a recent example of the duties listed in an advertisement for a junior electrical estimator:

Estimator duties:

  • Prepare quantities for use in obtaining competitive quotes
  • Technical analysis of tender returns
  • Strive for 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

There are also some courses which can help you with estimating techniques. There are various online or one-day courses that teach you different estimating techniques and the software used. They also include cost estimation processes and factors that impact cost estimation. If you’re considering a junior estimator role, one of these courses can give you an edge over other applicants.

As we mentioned before, while the UK has no formal apprenticeships for estimators, the US does. Graduates coming out of a formal training program can expect to be ready to fit right into an estimator role. Companies will usually expect that you already have the skills required to count takeoffs and quote jobs.

Now contrast the junior estimator description with the advertisement for an “experienced” electrical estimator below:

Specific Objectives:

  • Turning specifications and tender information into quotations
  • Ensuring that tender documents are correct and technically accurate
  • Timely preparation of and submission of electrical tenders
  • Attend site visits and client briefings
  • Work closely with clients and other colleagues to review tenders and handovers
  • Finalisation of all tender bids and to attend pre order meetings to secure contracts and hand over to Project Managers
  • Working to tight deadlines
  • Liaising with customers to review, interpret and understand customer electrical specifications / requirements
  • Maintain electrical specification confirmations for all contracts, identifying and costing for upcharges and requesting concessions
  • Developing key relationships with supply chain and with customers

Candidate profile:

  • Minimum of 5 years’ experience working as an Estimator or Electrical Engineer performing an Estimator role with well-established general contractor
  • Extensive knowledge in this type of work
  • Strong analytical, mathematical and general IT skills
  • Accurate and able to work alone

One of the key differences is in the expectations of managing and maintaining key relationships. The more experienced estimator is expected to play a bigger role in supply chain and customer liaison.

Experienced electrical estimators tend to have more responsibilities with key relationships Click To Tweet

Getting into the role

The typical day of an electrical estimator varies depending on the size and structure of the company you work for. Larger companies often have teams of estimators, so if you work in a team, you will often find that you have several projects on the go at once, and you may have a role to play in many of them. 

Small companies often have just one estimator and tend to want to hire someone who is already experienced. In a smaller company everything to do with estimating will be on your desk. That may still involve multiple projects at once, so you have to be especially skilled at managing your calendar and meeting due dates.

You will often spend a lot more time in an office than you would have as an electrician, although it’s always a good practice for estimators to physically see job sites too. Sometimes drawings are inaccurate and it’s important to be able to pick that up.

More and more companies are using cloud-based software, which makes it possible to get work done from anywhere. For example, with Countfire, you don’t need printouts of physical drawings laid out on a table – you can upload PDF documents to the software. This means you could be anywhere with an internet connection and still count your takeoffs. You might be able to make critical project updates while at the job site.

You’ll usually find that a large part of your focus when you first get into the role is spent on developing the “hard” skills required. This includes learning estimating techniques and putting together quotes. As you develop further and acquire more experience, you often start looking at soft skills, such as expanding your networks.

Key skills

The estimator role won’t suit everyone. There are some “hard skills” that are non-negotiable, such as:

  • You must have a reasonable grasp of maths and a strong aptitude for accuracy.
  • You must be able to read an electrical drawing.
  • You should be at minimum developing skills in estimating techniques if you’re going for a junior role, whereas in a senior or solo estimator role, you will be expected to have strong knowledge of estimating techniques.

Hands-on experience as an electrician is often preferred, but may not be necessary if you can prove that you otherwise have the knowledge and skills required. To be clear though, unless a company is specifically offering to train someone up as an estimator, the expectation is usually that you’ll go into the role with some knowledge and experience. Most estimators we’ve spoken to have acquired this knowledge during their time as electricians.

There are also a number of “soft” skills that are vital to your success as an electrical estimator. For example:

  • Attention to detail. You have to be the sort of person that is happy checking and rechecking minute details. Your overall track record should show that your work is very accurate.
  • Time management skills. One thing about tender deadlines is that they MUST be met. For most companies that put a project out for tender, the bids that are instantly rejected are the ones that come in past the deadline. You must have the ability to manage your own calendar, potentially juggling different deadline requirements.
  • Good collaborative skills. Electrical projects involve teamwork. There are often complex scheduling issues to deal with and estimators often have to go between on-site electricians and the management team.
  • Excellent interpersonal skills. As an estimator, you can expect to deal with colleagues, clients and subcontractors. You have to be the sort of person comfortable building strong relationships. This includes getting to know people in key places and building your networks. For example, knowing procurement managers at organisations can help get you a foot in the door for projects.
Electrical estimator

Typical pay

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.

Download here: Where to find electrical estimating jobs

Final thoughts

As a new electrical estimator, you can expect to have a period of steep learning, including estimating techniques and preparing quotations. In a junior role, you should expect to get some on-the-job training.

Your responsibilities tend to grow with experience. For example, you will find that you soon prepare estimates yourself and that you manage relationships with clients and suppliers. 

If you have the aptitude and attitude to make a good electrical estimator, you can also expect a rewarding role. It’s gratifying to play a vital part in the company winning new projects.