How to be an Invaluable Estimator

"Companies will then start looking at their investments and hiring practices, and that’s where a recession is likely to come from, that tighter [monetary] policy environment," -Sarah House, senior economist at Wells Fargo

Increased input costs, owner funding, construction delays, material availability, labor shortages, reduced profit margins…the construction industry doesn’t sound so great right now. And neither does our economy—we are experiencing the highest inflation rate we’ve had in 40 years, food and housing prices continue to rise, and this price instability is leading people to cut back.  

Construction Spending Chart April 2023 Census Gov

Anirban Basu, Sage Policy Group founder says, “Not only is the cost of capital higher than it was a year ago but with the failure of banks like SVB and Signature Bank and issues at other banks around the country and the world, financial conditions are set to weaken markedly. Project financing will be more difficult to acquire and as a result, those contractors that work on developer and construction projects are less likely to have an especially bright future.”  

Even though spending increased by 16% on manufacturing, commercial, and lodging construction as of January 2023, right now things are volatile, so it’s best to prepare now for things to worsen before they get better. How can you do that?  

Take Initiative 

Going heads-down and cranking out work consistently is productive, but it won’t differentiate you from others doing the same thing. You need to take the initiative and show your managers that you can and will go above and beyond to help improve the team’s processes. Grant Stucker, with over 12 years of construction experience and current Beck Technology Strategic Account Executive says, “Intertwining yourself with multiple aspects of the business makes you more valuable.” You can bring more to the table when you know more. Understanding design and operations will improve the accuracy of your estimates.  

auto-deskMSN writes, “The construction industry will need to find ways to become more efficient and innovative. This could involve adopting new technologies, building practices, and tools to reduce waste and increase productivity. This new economic environment may require contractors to adopt lower-cost materials like affordable fireproofing and cheaper lumber like pine, maple, and white oak in lieu of steel or concrete products…It might also require the use of technology like BIM modeling and project management and projection tools to become more efficient.”

You won’t be able to do that without… 

Educating Yourself 

Grant says, “Don’t wait for someone to teach it to you. Find out how to do it and teach it to others. YouTube, Udemy, TikTok, etc., especially in the current market of emerging tech. Go out and discover what will make your team better and you will be rewarded for it.” This relates to taking initiative. Find time to research alternative building materials and digital technology that improves workflows like BIM, drones, takeoff software, and estimating software like DESTINI Estimator.  

The Deloitte 2023 Engineering and Construction Industry Outlook report finds “Most E&C companies are utilizing digital technologies to expand business opportunities and boost profits by reducing costs in the long run and enhancing project execution. Further, with increased global supply chain disruptions, increased competition, worker shortages, and skyrocketing material prices, the need for digital transformation in construction has become much stronger.” 

If you are one of the primary drivers behind introducing solutions to your company’s main challenges, you’ll be seen as invaluable to the team. Especially if it helps reduce costs and keeps projects on target.  

Specialize  Asphalt

You can’t specialize in a specific area without taking an initiative to educate yourself. With a background as an estimator and project engineer, Ted Solomon, DESTINI Implementation Specialist at Beck Technology says, “First specialize in one division or operation (I started with asphalt), from there specialize in something more complex (in my case road projects with base concrete as well as asphalt), from there a specific type of project (bridges for me). At that point, I became “the bridge guy.” If anyone had a project with a bridge, overpass, or viaduct they came to me before elevating anything to the chief estimator. That gave the chief estimator more time to focus on bid strategy versus helping with pricing, takeoff, means, and methods.”  

If you can effectively take on a specialized area to free up others’ time, you can position yourself as someone who not only introduced a way to streamline the process but also an estimator who is hard to replace.  

Take Control of Your Own Destiny 

Rarely, in any industry, will your boss randomly come to you and offer a big promotion and a fat raise.  Career growth and salary increases are usually something you have to work and ask for. Grant says, “I remember early on in my career that I would wait for my manager to schedule a one-to-one with me, and before I knew it a year went by, and I was not closer to where I wanted to be. Force a one-to-one even quarterly with your managers to talk about your career path and what your goals are. If you don’t know, ask for direction and what makes sense until you find out.

During these conversations, make sure your current and future roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. You must prove that you can do more than what you do currently—hence the initiate, educate, and specialize advice. Grant says, “Demonstrate that you have mastered your role based on that definition and then ask for more responsibility that falls in line with the next stage in your career path. Managers are not going to give you more or promote you if you are not already doing more and showing them that you can handle it.”  

The Bottom Line 

The bottom line is always the bottom line—in your case, it’s producing estimates that win work (i.e., making profit for the company). Finding ways to make that happen and proving that you do is what will make you an invaluable estimator.  

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