Construction

Hiring and Training Estimators

What are the things you need to know when hiring and training estimators.
Togal AI
10 minutes

Hiring and Training Estimators for Construction

The modern labor market poses challenges in sourcing and retaining well-qualified candidates. An estimator must attain the necessary skills to be effective to a general contractor. Outlined below are the following:

1. Step-by-step process of finding, qualifying, and training construction estimators.

2. Solutions to the common bottlenecks in hiring and training construction estimators

3. Discover ways to reduce the cost per hire or the need for manpower

Disclaimer: The pricing stated here is based on average data from third-party research. Prices may still vary due to differences in seasonality and supplier.

Table of Contents

When to hire a construction estimator

Recommended salaries for construction estimators

Affording an estimator

The Hiring Process

Step 1: Develop a hiring strategy

Step 2: Summarize the process with a checklist

Step 3: Prepare interview questions

Step 4: Check an applicant’s references

The Training Process

Phase 1. Onboarding Estimators

Step 1. Preparing an Offer letter

Step 2. Orient the new-hired estimator

Step 3. The evaluation period

Phase 2. Training and Assessment Process

Step 1: Make them work in the office for a few weeks.

Step 2 : Get them on the field.

Step 3: Lay the foundations for your trainee.

Step 4: Train them with computerized estimating.

Phase 3. Final Evaluation

Bottlenecks in Hiring and Training Estimators

Bottlenecks in Hiring

Challenge #1: Hiring can be costly with minimal guarantee of ROI.

Challenge #2: Difficulty Qualifying

Challenge #3: Difficulty finding someone with experience

Challenge #4: What if I don't have enough jobs coming in?

Bottlenecks in Training

Challenge #1: New Estimators With Minimal to Zero Experience

Challenge #2: Learning curve in the use of software

Challenge #3: Low-Productivity and Slow Progress

Challenge #5 : Cost-overruns

Challenge #6: How to end the engagement when they are not a fit.

Final Words

When to hire a construction estimator

To answer this question, it’s important to explore an estimator’s average salary. It also requires self- assessment of whether you’re at the right stage to hire.

Recommended salaries for construction estimators

Depending on the level of education, geographical location, skills and experience, an estimator would cost you around $60,000 to $100,000 annually. If you pay them hourly, the range is between $33 to $55. You can pay an estimator by hour, by salary and by percentage of work. 

Affording an estimator

To answer this question, you must look at your revenue. If you're grossing around half a million dollar profit a year, then you can afford to hire a full-time estimator. But, if your profit is around $150,000 to $200,000, it’s recommended to grow your income before hiring.

The worst that can happen is miscalculating and letting go of your estimator after 6 months. To avoid this, here’s a few things to consider.

  • Are you keeping track of your job costs?
  • Is your profit around half a million dollars a year? 
  • Do you have enough jobs coming in?
  • Do you have a step-by-step process for hiring, qualifying, and training estimators? (If not, we’ll show you how below.)
  • Do you document your tasks and turn them into standard operating procedures? 
  • Do you have a way of evaluating your estimators?

The more boxes you check indicate better readiness to hire an estimator. Now, let's proceed to the hiring process.

The Hiring Process

To ensure a healthy long-term working relationship, it’s important to qualify your  candidates. Qualifying increases the chances of hiring someone who is :

  • Capable of implementing your processes.
  • Aligned with your company culture and values. 

Here’s how you can do this.

Step 1: Develop a hiring strategy

Before posting the job opening, prepare the step-by-step process for qualifying candidates. Many of them will look good on their resume, but may “jump ship” 6 months from now. When that happens, all your efforts will be wasted. You’ll be back to hiring and training from scratch. 

You want to form a good long-term relationship. To do that, narrow your search to estimators who are best suited to your firm. What qualifications are you looking for? What are your non-negotiables? How do you find applicants with these attributes?

Step 2: Summarize the process with a checklist

A checklist will keep you on track and ensure you don’t skip any crucial steps. Here’s an example of a checklist: 

  • Prepare the job description
  • Create a list of questions to qualify the candidates
  • Review their academic and employment history.
  • Check the background of the applicant
  • Request for References 
  • Verify and Consult Their References

Step 3: Prepare interview questions 

At this stage, your goal is to get to know the candidate. Asking questions can help you assess whether they’re a good fit to your team. 

Remember to prepare a detailed job description and questions before making the first call. Here’s a list you can use. 

  • Why do you want to work with us?
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals?
  • What are you looking for in a company?
  • Can you walk us through your estimating process? How do you do takeoff? 
  • How do you ensure the accuracy of your estimates?
  • To ensure your productivity rates are current, how do you communicate with your field staff?
  • How do you meet a tight deadline? 
  • How can you learn an estimating software fast?
  • What factors contribute most to the overall costs of a project?
  • What information does a request to bid give you?

Step 4: Check your applicant’s references

When you perform this step, you get a deeper understanding of your applicant’s past performance. 

Communicate with their previous supervisors and vendors. Ask them about the candidate’s working style, strengths and weaknesses. 

The technique here is to rule out an individual rather than confirming they are a great fit. Some of the questions you can ask are:

  • Was he reliable? 
  • How can you describe his dependability?
  • What are his weaknesses? 
  • Did he treat you in a fair and professional manner?
  • Would you recommend this candidate? Why?

The Training Process

Whether they’re experienced or not, all newly hired estimators need training. Proper training helps them get accustomed to your processes as a firm. 

But how long should you train them? That depends on their level of skill, experience and ability to adapt quickly. Here are some strategies you can implement, so they can perform in full-productivity fast. 

Phase 1. Onboarding Your Estimators

Step 1. Prepare Your Offer letter 

This is the start of your working relationship. Make things official by putting it in writing. That is where an offer letter comes in. 

Your offer letter should be vetted by your legal counsel. Keep the tone of the writing direct and positive. Let them know they were chosen, and recognize the skills they bring into your company. 

The letter should contain:

  • A clear description about the job offer
  • Job responsibilities and expectations
  • Date
  • Name
  • Salary
  • Benefits
  • Relevant Documents
  • Terms and Conditions
  • Relevant details about the company

Step 2.  Orient the new-hired estimator

So, you’ve found a candidate that’s a “fit” to your company. Your goal now is to make their transition as smooth as possible. Orient all employees that you’re welcoming a new hire. Make him/her feel welcome. 

Get his workstation ready and prepare the tools he’ll need to get the job done. Most importantly, get him up to speed by sharing documents, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and training videos. 

Step 3. The evaluation period 

You can’t be 100% sure an estimator is a “fit” with just interviews and resumes. You need to see how they actually work. Get a feel of their character and observe if they match the values and goals of your firm.

To do this, set a 90-day evaluation period. During this period, monitor, test and evaluate them. Their performance will be the basis for long-term work or the end of the engagement. 

A probationary or evaluation period can be around 3 - 6 months. Let them know about the expectations and explain the evaluation process.

Phase 2. Training and Assessment Process

Step 1: Make them work in the office for a few weeks.

When you allow them to help out in the office, they get to know company workflows and meet their colleagues. 

So let them run errands or assist various departments. This should give you an idea of their work ethic and how well they get along with the team. You’ll also see how fast they can grasp procedures and software.

Step 2 : Get them on the field.

Field experience gives your new estimator the big picture of what’s required to get the job done. Request your best field people to work with your trainee. The span of the field training depends on the task complexity and the ability of the trainee. 

Step 3: Lay the foundations for your trainee.

If your trainee is inexperienced, then you’ll need to lay out the basics: 

  • Allow them to do takeoffs by hands. 
  • Let them do manual estimation with paper plans and Excel.
  • Teach them how to self-evaluate or check their own work.
  • If they lack knowledge on the basics of estimating, send them to a nearby technical school. 

If you skip this step, a software program will only magnify their errors. So pair them up with an experienced estimator. He can guide and provide them feedback while they work.

Step 4: Train them with computerized estimating. 

Give your new hire a walkthrough for the software you’re using. If you have training videos and SOPs available, that can save time. Encourage them to work side-by-side with an experienced team member. If the software you use has support available for training teams, leverage that. 

Phase 3. Final Evaluation 

Ninety days have passed since your new estimator started. Hopefully you’ve monitored their performance during this duration. Now, it’s time to decide if they’ll be a great asset for your company long-term.

Here’s how you can evaluate their performance: 

  • Check if they met the expectations mentioned in the offer letter. 
  • Assess if they’ve adapted your company’s methods and processes. 
  • Do they match your company’s work ethic and culture? 
  • Do they listen to your feedback and implement accordingly?

Bottlenecks in Hiring and Training Estimators

Talent acquisition can be a challenge especially when your “perfect estimator” doesn't meet your expectations. In this section, we’ll discuss some of the hiring and training bottlenecks and strategies to solve them.

Bottlenecks in Hiring

Challenge #1: Hiring can be costly with minimal guarantee of ROI

Hiring a full-time estimator can cost you around $60,000 - $100,000 annually. They can spend weeks (even months) doing estimates for a single bid with no guarantee of return. Hence, hiring too many of them may not be a cost-effective strategy. 

What if you can reduce your costs while staying competitive with top GCs? 

SOLUTION: Leverage a deep-learning estimating software to lessen the need for man-power.

If you’re set on working with a smaller team, then a deep learning construction technology can help. With the AI estimating software, Togal.AI, you can reduce your need for manpower by cutting down your precon process from weeks (even years) to seconds. By helping you speed up the preconstruction process, you can sharpen your competitive edge and win more bids despite having a smaller team.

Challenge #2: Difficulty qualifying a wide pool of applicants

At times, there can be an overwhelming number of applicants without the right qualifications. This problem can be traced back to how and where you’ve advertised the job.

SOLUTION: Be clear about what you’re looking for in an estimator.

Filtering of applicants should happen before they’ve sat down for an interview. Specify in your job post the type of candidate you’re looking for: 

  • What is the location of your office?
  • What type of estimator do you need?
  • What skills and level of education are you looking for? 
  • How many years of experience do you require? 

Sometimes, it’s easier to filter out applicants by communicating what you don’t want in a candidate. 

Try using hiring platforms like Indeed and ZipRecruiter. Referral systems can also work in increasing your reach.

Challenge #3: What if I don't have enough jobs coming in?

If you're still starting out, and you're not sure if you'd have enough jobs coming in, it can be a source of worry. For example, you wouldn't want to hire an estimator and have to let him go 6 months later.

SOLUTION:  You can hire estimators only for peak seasons. 

That means, you can hire them during days when jobs are overflowing. Plus, there's many ways you can pay them: by salary, hourly, by estimate, by accepted estimate or by percentage of work.

Bottlenecks in Training

Challenge #1: New Estimators With Minimal to Zero Experience 

When you hire an inexperienced estimator, you have a fresh mind. It’s a mind you can train with your firm’s unique processes. However, an inexperienced estimator can also result in a time-consuming learning curve. 

SOLUTION: Document your tasks and create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPS).

If you’re looking for a way to automate and speed up the training process, SOP is the way. However, the only way to create SOPs is by documenting your daily processes. Then, you have to turn them into a document your new-hire can follow. 

Challenge #2: Learning curve in the use of software.

Top construction firms now rely on software to make fast estimates. But these software can be limited. 

Often, they have a huge learning curve. Or, you'd still have to put many hours manually editing the database to meet your needs. 

SOLUTION: Use Togal, an AI-powered quantity takeoff software.

With Togal, it’s simpler. All you need to do is:

  1. Draw/Import your construction layout in Togal’s integrated drawing software.
  2. Classify & tweak the material cost for each item & component. 
  3. Process takeoff.

You can also use it on any device - laptops, tablets, phones. Takeoffs can be done anywhere as long as you have internet and power. Request a demo to learn how Togal.AI can integrate with your workflow. 

Challenge #3: Delinquent Or Non-Performing Estimators

So, your new-hire has a glowing work history. Plus, they’re filled with confidence during the interview. 

But after you’ve hired them, they perform far below your expectations. This can be frustrating and can affect the team’s morale. There are several ways you can solve this.

SOLUTION: Partner them up with a more experienced estimator or let them go.

Hopefully, you’ve set expectations regarding their 90-day evaluation period. It’s important to consider that they could be having trouble adapting to their new environment. So while their 90-day period isn’t up, partner them up with a skilled estimator.

Doing this can get them up to speed, provide them with real-time feedback and a role model to emulate. 

Next, document your employee’s behavior and performance. That way, you have tangible proof of their tendencies, and you can make accurate decisions based on that.  

Communicate your observation and set expectations on what would happen if it doesn’t improve. 

Once you’ve assessed that they’re not fit for the role, then it’s time to let them go. Discuss the performance problems. Inform them ahead of time, and don’t forget to express gratitude.

Challenge #5 : Cost-overruns  

Cost overruns are unpredicted expenses that exceed initial estimates. One of its main causes are estimation errors. 

The estimator may have created overly optimistic estimates. He could also lack experience in planning for unexpected costs. In some cases, misrepresentation is done intentionally to price “more competitively”.

SOLUTION: Proper training and accountability when handling project inaccuracies.

If your new hire is doing an estimate, make sure to add a new set of eyes, preferably an experienced specialist to double check. Scrutinizing and evaluating cost estimates can minimize cost overruns.  So make an intentional effort to ensure that initial cost estimates are precise and evidence based. 

Final Words 

Construction estimators are crucial to the success of any construction company. They’re part of the precon stage, and they are critical to winning more bids. Bid too high, and you lose. Bid too low, and you'll miss out on profits.

While estimating is one of the most important parts of the construction process, it's also the most time-consuming. That's why many growing construction firms are looking to hire more estimators.

Go through the steps and strategies mentioned above. Document and optimize your hiring process. In the end, you’ll have a talent acquisition process that’ll help you identify top talent suited for your firm.

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