Mistakes and Realizations

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I have been laid off a few times during my career as an estimator. Each time, I moved on to the next job without much thought. As a young estimator, I believed it was the way of the industry. I was constantly getting recruitment offers, and I never had a problem getting a new job. Even back then, estimators were in high demand. However, after the last layoff, I began to wonder if there was anything I could have done to keep those jobs. For the most part, I liked my jobs and would have preferred not to be laid off. The layoffs were due to a variety of reasons, but mostly because of downsizing or a failing company. As an estimator, was I in a position to change my employer’s fate? The answer was yes and still is.

The first mistake I made was putting my bosses on a pedestal. I thought they could do no wrong, and that they were always aware of everything going on in the company. I was wrong on both counts. Much to my surprise, it turns out that employers are humans too, and they do make mistakes.

My second mistake was not believing in myself, my knowledge and the position I was in to help improve the health of the company. In my mind, I was just the estimator, who only did as I was told.

I have written about this before, but it bears repeating: Educate yourself. Many employers are willing to pay for classes that make their employees more useful, productive and valuable. If not, many colleges offer construction courses, including project management, construction law, change orders and claims management. Community colleges are often a more affordable option than a university.

In addition to the classes just mentioned, I also attended what I believe to be the most important seminar of my career. The topic was self-improvement for management personnel and was conducted by Management Action Programs. Before the seminar, MAP came to my employer’s office and interviewed everyone in the company about me. They also administered a psychological test in order to assess my personality traits.

The seminar was conducted on a weekend away from the office and interruptions were not allowed. Many CEOs and other high-level employees were in attendance. In full view of the entire audience, everyone’s test scores were posted on the walls in letters large enough to be read from anywhere in the room. All of our strengths and weaknesses were on display. We spent the rest of the weekend facing our problems and working on solutions. This process did a lot for my career and outlook.

Estimators help bring in the work that keeps a company afloat and are very important parts of the company’s marketing efforts and project management. Marketing happens every time someone talks to anyone outside of the company. If someone speaks unprofessionally to vendors and customers, it may lead to them getting fired. When someone works hard creating good relationships with vendors and customers, they are contributing to the success of the company.

In retrospect, I was unaware of the connection between my duties as an estimator and the difficulties the field had with project management. I believed my boss was aware of everything happening, and I was wrong. Higher-ups are often insulated from the field by project managers and superintendents. Unfortunately, as with any group of people, some of them may be ineffective, incompetent or dishonest.

There has always been friction between estimating and project management, with each group blaming the other for problems on a project. When you throw in a poor project manager, it makes matters worse. I was put in a position of knowing something negative about a project several times, but I did not report it to the boss because I believed he already knew. Once I realized bosses don’t know everything, I was still in a complicated position. Was I a grade school tattletale if I reported it? How would the project manager feel about me? Would it really hurt the company if I did not report it?

Over the course of time, I learned if something is awry, I should mention it. Even though it has nothing to do specifically with estimating, it may be something that saves your job, and ultimately, the company.

About the Author

Stephen Carr

Estimating Columnist

Stephen Carr has been in the electrical construction business since 1971. He started Carr Consulting Services—which provides electrical estimating and educational services—in 1994. Contact him at 805.523.1575 or steve@electrical-estimating.com, and...

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