Are Your Estimators Bored?

Estimating can get boring. Count, count, count—highlight all the little symbols, color all the lines red, enter the counts into the computer. Clicking the days away, one job at a time.

It is nobody’s fault—any job can become tedious. But looking at electrical designs can sometimes bring on a perpetual state of déjà vu. This is especially true if the jobs you work on are always the same type: a school modernization, an office T.I. or another retail core and shell project. Nothing really changes, and the jobs often meld into the next and the next and the next. Ho hum.

So, how do I keep my estimators enthusiastic about what they are doing? How do I keep their interest levels up so they don’t get bored? What makes it bearable for them to count the same things, day in and day out? Well, besides charming them with my constant, hilarious wit and letting them play any type of music they choose, I also train and educate them every chance I get.

Now, this is probably an easier task for me than most contractors, who most likely don’t have much time for training. For these owners and managers, there are many options for estimating education. Books, DVDs, local community colleges, universities, traveling seminars, trade shows and perhaps the easiest—the Internet. Internet education is typically more affordable than on-site courses as it can be done without leaving the office or home. This eliminates the additional costs of travel and hotels. These programs also are more flexible to the individual estimator’s busy schedule.

The National Electrical Contractors Association’s (NECA) Management Education Institute (MEI) offers an extensive line of training courses including some online courses. The MEI programs are available to both NECA members and nonmembers (at a higher price).

“We are changing our Basic Estimating Course and have added an online component. When someone signs up for the Basic Estimating Class, they will be required to take a one-hour online program for estimators interested in learning more about NECA’s Manual of Labor Units,” said Stuart Binstock, executive director of MEI. “This course is designed to reduce the overall time of the basic course and give the student a better understanding of how to read and use the MLU.”

There are also training courses offered by the major estimating software companies. Some companies only offer training on their software program with a minor emphasis on the basics of computerized estimating. These courses are great for beginners who use their software, but they most likely won’t teach the in-depth electrical knowledge required in electrical estimating. For this type of teaching, some companies have turned this format around by placing more emphasis on the deeper education of electrical estimating.

Accubid offers several types of courses ranging from basic estimating to project schedule management and change order estimating. Students can attend courses individually or can take them together as part of Accubid’s Certified Estimator (ACE) Program. Five primary courses are combined into a scheduled group. Upon completion, students are officially designated as Accubid Certified Estimators.

The American Society of Professional Estimators (ASPE) offers a full line of educational courses, literature and resources. Many of these are online. However, these courses are mainly based on all areas of construction and are not electrical specific. Still, an electrical estimator could benefit greatly from a more rounded understanding of estimating. For the really serious estimators, the ASPE also offers a certification program that is much more extensive and takes over a full year to complete. This would be a great program for senior level estimators who want to expand their education.

Then there is Mike Holt Enterprises, founded by none other than Mike Holt—the famous National Electrical Code (NEC) expert and U.S. National Barefoot Waterskiing Champion (seriously, check out his Web site. He has photos.) The company offers an excellent series on DVD that takes the viewer through the basics of estimating and beyond. Not only is the DVD a very affordable option, the great thing about the DVD format is that it can be viewed at the student’s pace and viewed many times over. It can also be used at the office as an instant source of reference.

Education is one of the greatest motivators. The more your estimators know, the more important they feel. The more they can do on their own, the more confidence they will have and the greater initiative they will take. (By the way, this will allow them to perform more work without your guidance and this will allow you to have more time to work on other things). If you make estimators feel they are a critical part of your organization, they will work harder and will take more pride in what they do. This can only result in higher quality, more accurate and stronger estimates for your company. 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


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