Many overloaded contractors have uttered something along these lines at one point or another: “I wish I could find someone that’s as smart as I think I am to share some of the load.” But if that load is to support the estimating needs of the company, maybe what they are really looking for is someone more adept at using today’s tools and theories in our ever-changing trade.

I recently found the textbook used for my estimating training class long ago. “Electrical Estimating” by Ray Ashley was published in 1949 (yes, I’ve been around that long) by McGraw-Hill. The book is out of print, but some older copies may be floating around. Ashley’s book can still be of value, despite the fact that the hand-generated estimating procedures used in those days have changed to computer-driven methods. It is a good reference and can show beginning estimators that the tools we have today were not always in existence.

The art and science of manual estimating is still something a well-qualified individual should learn. There may be times that all the computing facilities in the company are tied up on other work, yet an estimate has to be started, or the estimating procedure of a project is in need of more people power. This is the time that knowing the basics of estimating comes to the rescue, and the time when manual estimating may be the security net.

While much time is spent considering which estimating software and hardware to use, just as much (if not more) time must be spent considering the person who will do the estimating. The company must decide for itself what the individual’s duties will be, as there does not seem to be one specific uniform job description in the industry.

Ashley has a reference to “not all men” when considering estimators. Obviously, women have entered the estimating profession with considerable success. So what characteristics should be considered when considering estimating candidates?

Qualities should include a personality that has tact and diplomacy. Estimators ultimately will have to sell the job or be in contact with other disciplines. Bombastic attitudes don’t go over well with owners, engineers or general contractors.

Since plans are customarily drawn in two dimensions, vision and spatial ability will come in handy when reading plans. Digitization has taken some of the load off in reading plans, but these abilities should be required. Circumstances beyond our industry’s control at times will produce project plans less than adequate, and this is the time when the estimators’ skills come into play to visualize the project.

As estimators are constantly dealing with measurements and values, an analytical bent is desirable. This will come in especially handy when reviewing the estimate before it’s finalized and called out to prospective customers. At the same time, a creative person able to spot and make notes on possible value changes will be helpful when it comes time to negotiate or find changes that will lower the project costs. Also adding to this ability would be an individual’s ingenuity.

Estimating can be mentally exhausting. Some parts of the estimate can be uninteresting and completion of the particular task may not make sense to staring estimators. This is the time that an individual’s initiative comes into play. Time in our business is equal to money and it must be applied as efficiently as possible. Computers have eased the burden, but a person’s initiative to stick to the job is of utmost importance.

Staying power and a measure of self-confidence are positive traits for an estimator. At times, it is not easy to devote complete attention to a set of contract documents, which include the plans that are poorly put together and can be ambiguous. No matter what the condition, the estimate must be brought to a logical and accurate conclusion. This can become a miserable situation and at times there will have to be some considerations that may cause the estimator to doubt the decision. This would not be the time to be cocky or overly self-assured, but a decision must be made based on the information at hand. Often the decision will be supported by later facts, but at any rate these are the items that the estimator may not be able to confirm until the project reaches a certain stage.

Qualities sought in estimators are often similar to those found in company executives. The traits for estimators are those that may lead to promotions. Opportunities for well-trained and compatible estimators are only limited by the individual. EC

DAVID is a professor of electrical technology at Long Beach (Calif.) City College, a consultant and an expert witness. He can be reached at 562.597.1877 or at