What does a Construction Estimator do and why?

16 August 2019

There’s something pretty unique about the Estimator.

Crazy hours, not many quiet moments and having to work within razor thin margins — you sometimes wonder who these nutters are.

Let’s say we stepped into a room of construction students and asked them what they wanted to do when they graduate. My guess is the majority would be keen to be Project Managers. A couple would be keen to get into contract administration. No doubt more than a handful of the ambitious ones are already thinking about what to hang in their office when they become a General Manager.

You wouldn’t guess that many would say they wanted to be an Estimator — you probably wouldn’t even blame the grads for not knowing what an Estimator did.

That pretty sums up the Estimator — the surprise (but super rewarding) career in construction that no one knew they wanted to get into.

What is a construction estimator?

A construction estimator prepares the budget for building and construction projects. They are usually expected to:

  • audit projects,
  • prepare cost estimates, and
  • manage overall building expenses

The construction estimator is usually the one to negotiate the prices and quotes with any sub-contractors and suppliers on a construction project.

Construction Estimators go by many names

A construction estimator may also be known as:

  • construction economist, 
  • building estimator
  • quantity surveyor
  • estimating manager, or
  • cost engineer.

Construction Estimator For ABD Group – Jeremy Barrow

ABD Group’s Estimating Manager Jeremy Barrow wasn’t too different to most fresh construction students. When he was a uni he had aspirations of being a PM when he graduated. That was until he started his first role with Kane and was introduced to the Estimating department.

“I didn’t even know what Estimating was”, Jeremy told us — but it wasn’t long until he changed his tune.

The eureka moment was when Jeremy discovered that it was “a business within the business, which is in the business of winning”, and Jeremy liked to win.

Construction Estimating: All About Winning Business

It’s not a rare thing to find this competitive streak in an Estimator. After all, there is a rhythmic cadence to putting in a tender. It’s a bit like a season of footy — you know what you need to do, you know the opposition, yet every game (or tender) is completely different.

Jeremy describes it a bit like a university exam every three weeks, but a bit more fun.

“Every three weeks you have a new submission to put in, present to the client, get a bunch of subcontractors involved and work together with this team. In the end, if you are good, you get a win”

But it’s not all about winning at all costs. It’s about winning, and winning well.

Once the building has been built, the client needs to feel that they’ve got the best value, and a high quality finished product.

Construction margins are at an all time low. That means there is a big focus on every detail, and how each detail can be done more efficiently. The Estimating department is at the frontline of many of these cost v quality decisions. Helping navigate a minefield of labour, plant and material trade-offs.

And within all these tradeoffs and concessions, you still need to win the job.

At a strategic level, estimating is about looking at the project and finding the most clever way to build it. What can I find in this project that will get it over the line?

What’s the best way to work with the market out there? What’s the best way to work with the Project Managers and the 100 odd trades you need? What’s the best way to pull together a proposal that will convince the client and get this thing built, and built well?

It’s a lot to take on, and it all can’t be captured in a number. Estimating is just as much about having a holistic view to the project. As Jeremy pointed out to us, the winner isn’t judged solely on dollars — it’s won by those who can find the smartest way to build the thing.

“The pitch is just as good as the price… the dollars mean nothing unless you understand what’s behind the dollars.”

In the end, it’s about being that key cog in the bigger machine. Taking those architectural drawings and working out how we can turn it into something physical.

This is what the love of Estimating is all about. The concept of taking an idea, assembling the right team, and getting the ball rolling on turning that idea into a reality.