The Penalty for Not Training Your Estimators

Oct. 17, 2018
Electrical contractors may pay a huge price on the estimating front by using employees who have not been properly trained to create estimates.

Anyone who flies a lot for work or otherwise like I do has probably had this feeling at least once or twice — I know I have. Glancing at the pilot as you pass by the cockpit, a brief but ominous thought temporarily fills yours head. “I sure hope this person is qualified,” you think to yourself for a split second. Along these same lines, what if while boarding the plane you asked that same pilot, “Where did you receive your flight training?” And the pilot responded, “Oh, I have never had any official training. I just sat in the cockpit and observed. I learned how, when, and which levers to pull and knobs to turn by watching others. I’ve made a few mistakes along the way, but none have been fatal.”

I don’t know very many people who would feel comfortable placing this so-called pilot at the controls. Yet a similar principle applies when it comes to electrical estimators — many have no background or specific training in this niche, yet they are expected to learn on the job and perform immediately.

Why do so many electrical contractors allow untrained employees to function as an estimator without providing them with the proper training? In my experience as an electrical estimating trainer and educator over the years, I am continually puzzled by this reality. Since quality estimating is probably the most important function that takes place daily in the average electrical contractor’s
office, it must be a top priority. And quality estimating starts with quality people.

Hiring someone to estimate is quite different than hiring someone to install electrical equipment. An electrician is not an estimator unless he or she has been properly trained in the responsibilities and functions of an estimator. Just because someone is an excellent electrician is no guarantee that he or she possesses the skills to be a successful estimator.

Allowing untrained employees to hold a position where they have neither the training nor experience is a costly mistake for electrical contractors (see “The Consequences of Using Inexperienced Estimators” below). For example, when the chief estimator lacks the necessary information from an untrained estimator to properly bid a project, confidence in the estimate diminishes. Thus, a contractor might not be able to bid a project because the untrained estimator failed in his or her responsibilities; however, this deficiency was not originally identified up-front.

Although the estimator typically is ultimately blamed for a bad estimate in these situations, the chief estimator should shoulder the responsibility for allowing someone without the proper skills and training to estimate the project in the first place. If staffing isn’t where it should be, then make the necessary adjustments. Consider the following if you identify a need for a new estimator:

• Finding the right person is key. Hire the person who has the necessary skills to become a quality estimator. This person must have the desire to fulfill the required responsibilities of the position.

• Invest in quality, intense training for any new employee hired.

• Provide him or her with good structure and organization.

Unfortunately, more than a few contractors have gone out of business due to poor estimating.  They must stop letting untrained employees perform one of the most important tasks in the company because the risks are too great.                      

Kiper is an independent electrical estimating trainer and consultant based in Niagara Falls, N.Y. He can be reached at [email protected].

SIDEBAR: The Consequences of Using Inexperienced Estimators

Following are some of the ramifications that could result from allowing untrained estimators to underperform in an electrical contracting environment.

Excessive amount of labor to get the estimate completed ― This is compounded in a company where more than one employee is used to create estimates. A simple calculation of labor hours spent on untrained estimators should reveal the financial resources a company needs to hire a skilled estimator or cover the cost of providing quality training.

Lack of quality and accurate takeoffs ― During an estimate review, the chief estimator must be presented with an accurate quantification of the materials required for the project. Most symbols on electrical drawings represent several pieces of material. Most untrained estimators will miss this level of detail when preparing an estimate. The estimator must know the required materials for all components on the project.

Consistent low bid numbers or excessive high bid numbers ― When an estimator has inconsistent bid numbers, it is a clear indication that the estimator is not “seeing” the project properly.

Lack of a proper understanding of the potential labor risks ― Labor risks are the greatest and most costly component of an estimate. An estimator must have a solid understanding of determining the proper number of labor hours to complete the project.

Poor estimating software efficiency ― Contractors invest thousands of dollars in computer equipment and estimating software. An estimator must understand solid estimating principles to use the features of the software. Otherwise, this investment could turn out to be a huge waste of money.

Company reputation is at risk with general contractors and their customers ― When a contractor provides a bid number and the estimate is flawed, they are sometimes forced to retract the bid. This action typically has a negative effect on their creditability.

Starting off young potential estimators on the wrong foot ― Attitude and morale are key qualities in good employees. When an employee has not been properly trained for his or her responsibilities, frustration is sure to follow. This will eventually impact attitude and morale.

About the Author

Don Kiper | Independent Electrical Estimating Consultant

With more than 35 years of experience as a construction electrician, industrial maintenance electrician, foreman, estimator, estimating manager, and project manager, Don has used what he learned to lead in the implementation of estimating software with three electrical contractors where he has worked. Don has 17 years of experience in the construction field and 18 years of office experience and he has personally estimated over $700 million dollars in electrical projects. 

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