Interview: How to become a successful electrical estimator

In this industry interview, Phil Kober, an Electrical Estimator at SES Engineering Services, tells us what a typical day looks like and what he recommends for a successful estimating career.

What was your path to becoming an electrical estimator?

I trained as an electrician and did that for about 3-4 years and then decided that I wanted to move towards the office and pre-construction side. I’d always had an interest in working with layout drawings and the first fix install was always my favourite part. With estimating you have to visualise the entire project and you learn about how the majority of it works so it seemed like a good path to take.

I’d say this is a pretty traditional path – most of the people I work with today started out on the tools first.

What does a typical day look like for you?

We do a large amount of mechanical and electrical projects so our team is split up into one mechanical estimator and one electrical estimator working on a range of projects from schools, to offices, apartments and hotels. It’s quite varied work.

The turnaround seems to be 3-4 weeks so there’s always one job coming out as another comes in and it’s quite fast paced in the office.

There’s five of us in our team – two mechanical engineers, two electrical engineers and an Estimating Director. We’re all set around the same table for the entire day so we’re always bouncing off questions and queries. It’s useful working with the mechanical estimating team because they’ll throw out any surprises we might need to pick up with their equipment and vice versa. It helps really gel the project together.

If we need to focus it’s a case of popping in a pair of headphones and getting down to reading through specifications and trying to blank out the world as much as possible.

What skills do you think are essential for an electrical estimator?

Time management and the ability to turnaround work quickly. Take lots of notes and be conscientious with your work.

How has technology changed the estimating role?

When I first started out the company I worked for was very small and we used to do everything on pen and paper. I went in and tried to make an excel document that would be of more benefit and from there I joined another company which was where I was first introduced to Countfire (our electrical estimating takeoff software). I’ve taken it from there to SES where I am now and it’s just changed everything – it’s made our job so fast paced.

Moving from such a pen and paper company to using actual estimating software it’s like I’ve been able to see the change over the past 10 years that technology like this has made. It’s incredible.

What advice would you give to someone looking to go into electrical estimating?

Definitely do some time on site. That site-based knowledge is invaluable as it lets you picture the work and really get an idea of taking it from what are just 2D drawings and visualising them into a 3D idea of how it will all look once it’s completed.

Personally, I think employers believe experience is more sought after than the actual qualifications in this role. When you’re looking for a job it becomes about the size and scope of projects you’ve worked on, rather than what letters you have after your name.

What type of company would you say is best to work for?

Look for a company that has a bit of a family-mentality. As an estimator there’s an adage that goes something like “you’re friends with everyone until you win a job and then you’re blamed for everything”. It’s common for people to find fault with your work so finding a company that sticks with you and will give you a chance to explain is always a good company to work for.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Being able to work with so many varied people. You’re constantly talking to sub-contractors, main contractors, suppliers, the team around you, those onsite. It’s a communicative job – there’s so much there that you always feel like you’re part of a team rather than just being out there on your own trying to get a job done.

I do miss being an electrician at times, then as I was fitting a light the other day and it took me way longer than it should have, I realised why I got off the tools!

To connect with Phil, follow him on LinkedIn, and for a guided trial of automatic takeoff software Countfire, head here.

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