Electrical estimating is a tough, involved subject to teach and a very hard subject to learn. This is not a class they teach in high school or in most colleges, if any. Heck, I don’t recall the word “estimating” ever being said at career day. Teaching someone how to estimate is time-consuming, expensive and a major investment into your company’s future.

As there are probably not any local schools you can send your new estimators to, most of this teaching needs to be done by you¬—or by one of your senior estimators. Your company’s time and resources will need to be devoted and made available to the knowledge-hungry junior estimator. This can really try the patience of those who don’t like to be asked a thousand questions a day.

The training must also be consistent and constant. A bored estimator-in-training will rapidly lose interest. This will result in one or two things: lots of costly mistakes or the search for a new job. Either of these outcomes will cost you more time and your company money. Your commitment and dedication is equally, if not more, important than that of your young estimator.

I have written several articles on training estimators. I recommend visiting www.ecmag.com and searching the archives for these and other articles that have valuable training information.

Before training can begin, you have to find the right person: a young person with a spark, a strong interest in their life and career. Someone with an appreciation of commitment who wants to really get into their future and stay with it. Somebody who appreciates the opportunity and wants to be good at what they do. That “spark” is so important.

Although elusive, I believe this spark can still be found. But when you do find it, remember: it also has to be nurtured. Keeping the spark ignited is critical. Estimating requires exclusive, intense focus. Intense focus is very difficult to achieve if you don’t like what you are doing. We have to make estimating interesting to the future estimators. We also have to make it fun.

Work is work, but you can accomplish a lot more when you’re having fun doing it. So make sure to mix things up and avoid having your juniors do the same thing day in, day out. Challenge them to think and show them how interesting electrical construction is and how it touches everything in our lives.

I’d like to share some sad news about a colleague and friend, Nathaniel Wood. Everyone calls him Nate. On Friday, June 24, Nate lost a very tough battle with leukemia. With his last breath of life he was the bravest man on earth, assuring his sister, “Everything is going to be OK.”

A mother lost her son, a sister her brother. A good company also lost a family member, a best friend—their future. Now I do not say “future” as reference to their financial success, although I guess that’s a part of it. Nate certainly was and would have continued to be a large part of their future success.

No, I said “future” because Nate was going to be with them for many years—the continuing heartbeat and energy of the company, the spark. This is who Nate was. He always had a smile in the works, always looking forward to the next second of his life, the next job to estimate.

Nate worked for Del Monte Electric, Dublin, Calif. The owner, John Hunter, and many of his staff (an extended family comprising really good people) have known Nate for several years. They watched him go through the rigors of his college life at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo—where I’m certain Nate had much fun—and worked along side him during his summer internships. Nate was being educated and trained to become their next great estimator and project manager.

Del Monte Electric was investing, not only in Nate’s future, but their own. In my opinion, he could not have found a better place to land on his feet at such a young age. His future was very bright and he was very happy with his view ahead. He will be dearly missed and well remembered. I feel very fortunate to have known him.

So now we forward into the future. Will you find any estimators with Nate’s “spark”? Will you be able to spot that spark when you meet, or when you interview them for the job? Will you ask them, “Have you ever considered becoming an estimator?” or “What are your plans for the next five years?” Your answer might be, “Because that’s what it takes: five years! And then it takes five more, then five more and, maybe, after 20 years, you can officially call yourself a good estimator.”

And most important of all: when you do find someone with that spark—will you invest your time and money in them? For your company’s future and theirs, will you teach them? EC

SHOOK is the president and chief estimator for his estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He has worked in the electrical construction industry for more than 18 years. Reach him at 707.776.0800 or by e-mail at sfs@TakeOff16.com.