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The Difference between an Estimator and a Take-Off Person

Finding the right person for your estimating department can be a challenging task.  Whether you are looking for an estimator, a chief estimator, or an entry level employee, you must match a person’s skill with his responsibility.  Quality employees possess skills, work ethic, honesty, and most of all, potential.  An employee without potential will not be able to be molded into a key member of your estimating team.

An employee must have the proper skills and understanding of his responsibilities as a team member.  Employees are usually compensated per their skill and ability.  The greater the skills and abilities, the greater the compensation.  Happy is the employee whose compensation matches his abilities.  Happy is the contractor when an employee’s responsibilities match his skill and ability.  When an employee has responsibilities, but does not possess the skills to fulfill them, disaster is awaiting.

Having a detailed job description for each position in your department will help you in hiring the right person for the appropriate position.  Understanding the difference between an estimator and a take-off person is vital.  Hiring an employee as an estimator with the skills of a take-off person will lead to frustration for both the company and employee.

A take-off person is no more an estimator than an electrical worker is an electrician.  A take-off person trying to function as an estimator is costly, very costly.

Let’s consider the difference between an electrical worker and an electrician.  An electrical worker is one who can install electrical work when given the proper tools, material, and information.  However, an electrician is one who can properly digest, perform electrical calculations, size wiring and conduits, determine appropriate wiring methods, and order the materials and tools, to complete a project per the NEC.

A take-off person is one who can count symbols and send out fixture counts. But an estimator is one who can count a symbol and translate it into labor hours and material dollars.  An estimator must be skilled in reading and interpreting the project specifications.  He must determine direct labor hours and any off-hour work and overtime required.  There are many factors involved in estimating a project.

Some contractors make counterproductive decisions to fill in the gap in their estimating department.  An electrician may understand electrical work well, this is no guarantee that he understands estimating.  No matter how good an employee is in the electrical field, he or she must have a solid estimating philosophy.

Placing an unskilled person without a proper philosophy of estimating will prove to be a hindrance to your company’s success.  The training and maturing of an estimator takes time.

Just because an electrician is a wonderful worker doesn’t mean that he will make a good foreman.  Nor is there a guarantee that a good foreman or electrician will make a good estimator.

To be a skilled estimator you must have a solid estimating philosophy.  Having the ability to read blueprints and count symbols is not sufficient.

When a take-off person is hired to function as an estimator, the problems will be many.

So, remember these principles:

  1. You must match the responsibilities of the position with an employee’s abilities.
  2. Place employees in your estimating department with the potential to become a skilled estimator.
  3. Have detailed job descriptions for every position in your estimating department and never expect anyone to perform above his capabilities.
  4. Bad habits are very hard to break, therefore, provide quality training for employees to first learn the right way.
  5. It is far better not to bid a project than to allow someone without the proper skills to perform a proper estimate.
  6. Remember, you are not saving money when you compensate a low skilled employee to do a job that requires higher skills.
  7. Hire the right person with the right skills to do the job right.  And if you do that, you will be glad that you did.

The employee with the skills of a take-off person trying to function as an estimator is detrimental to a contractor’s success.  Expecting an employee to perform at a level above his skill set will prove unprofitable.  In electrical estimating the adage is true – “you get what you pay for.”