Unlike an electrical apprentice, who follows a finite curriculum and training termination, estimators have no such benchmarks. Instead, an estimator’s value is calculated from many points of interest, which places a burden on the estimator to continue training.

Effective tools for understanding the various products encountered in our trade include manufacturers’ catalogs. Aside from product information, many catalogs contain adjunct information. For example, if the estimator is required to make a layout of a small parking lot lighting system, then floodlighting catalogs can provide formulas and sample layouts. While the most recent catalogs are preferred, older issues should not be discarded because they contain labor-saving ideas. Likewise, catalogs are sometimes the only place an estimator can find the weight of a device or ascertain that the designer has used a known catalog number.

Magazine advertisements are of special value to new estimators, because they introduce materials. Advertisements also are critical in displaying new products, tools, or methods. Virtually every magazine has a reader service that will forward more detailed information sheets, which should be saved in a loose-leaf binder for future reference.

The Internet has eased access to much information. Magazine advertisements show many companies’ Web site addresses. These sites are loaded with links. For example, NECA’s site links to this magazine’s, as well as to many other industry sites. Following these links further enhances your knowledge. Industry publications are often on file at local libraries.

While not all shows are within easy geographic accessibility, they are worth attending for the “hands-on” product demonstrations. Estimators can establish worthwhile contacts with the representatives of the various product manufacturers. For example, the next NECA show will be in Washington, D.C., this fall, and it’s not too early to make plans to attend. Other shows provide similar opportunities. If you invest the time to find their locations, it can pay off later.

An important part of the NECA show is the educational opportunities provided in the various workshops given during the run of the convention and show. These courses will provide some great insights on technicalities that may not be mainstream yet. Some of the other product shows have also adopted the workshop method. Any of these will provide a great opportunity to meet and listen to industry experts in a large variety of topics. Some suppliers also host product workshops as a selling tool, but that should not discourage attendance, because the information may well be worth the time spent. Depending a firm’s size, some manufacturers will also put on workshops on the company premises.

Other organizations, such as The International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and the International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI), host workshops.

Educational institutions offer more formalized training. Public education generally costs much less than proprietary education. The local library may provide sources for the local community college system, as well as for the four-year schools and universities. Many also offer more costly, nondegree extension courses.

A concern with public systems is that their courses are usually broad in content. Therefore, anyone seeking topic-specific instruction may have to use proprietary schools. In some cases, public colleges will coordinate and run industry-specific classes at reasonable costs. Correspondence courses are another option.

Estimators may not need to look beyond their individual shops or offices. Most specialty members of a firm, such as the bookkeeper or the job site electrician, can provide a wide range of insights. In-house sources offer information that is based on company practices at little or no cost.

Documentation of an individual’s educational efforts is a personal decision. Some states have adopted continuing education requirements, so the time invested in tracking your efforts may provide a bonus in the future. Some course sponsors, who have chosen to qualify for accreditation, offer “Continuing Education Units (CEUs)” although these units are seldom accepted as the equivalent of regular college units.

A typical estimator’s curriculum should include: Code classes; oral and written communication methods; elements of bookkeeping; plan reading for architectural as well as electrical plans; and of course the ever-present computer programs used in our industry. Once the basics have been covered, a multitude of added subjects will increase an estimator’s effectiveness.

DAVID is a professor of electrical technology at Long Beach City College, Calif., a consultant, and an expert witness. He can be reached at (562) 597-1877 or by e-mail at edavid@lbcc.cc.ca.us.