Flooring Takeoffs

The Accidental Flooring Estimator

I had zero construction experience when I went on my interview for a commercial flooring estimator position over 10 years ago. Wasn’t even sure what the job actually was, and I had definitely never heard of a takeoff. My wife and I had just moved to Austin, and, hey, I needed a job. 

The estimating manager had to draw me a flow chart of the Owner – Architect – GC – Sub pipeline and then explain to me what it all meant. I followed along and nodded like you do in interviews, but I perked up when he compared estimating to solving puzzles.

My post-college resume consists of job titles such as English teacher, natural gas landman, chemical plant operator, and inventory control. Not what you would call a natural fit for construction at first glance, but I’ve been in the industry for 10 years now. As more and more of the experienced candidates are aging out of the applicant pool, looking outside of construction is becoming more of an option for companies looking to hire. If you’re thinking of going down this road but are unsure where to start, here are some observations from my journey.

Look for transferable skill sets.

While my background didn’t include construction, it did include a lot of problem-solving and information extraction. Let’s face it: if you don’t enjoy hunting down information, estimating will never be a good fit for you. OK, enjoy may be a little strong – how about tolerate? The clicking and ‘coloring’ is the easy part of estimating; it’s all the micro-decisions and research leading up to that first click that determines how well a takeoff is going to go.

This is where people outside of the traditional construction background can thrive. Being at the top range of millennials, I can remember the emphasis on getting any college degree after graduating high school. I have a liberal arts degree, so outside of teaching there wasn’t a clear career path for me. As degrees became more common, finding a niche was even more difficult. Construction ended up being a great fit, and this could be true for others looking to pivot out of their current situation.

In their book ReWork, the creators of Basecamp have an interesting tiebreaker if you’re lucky enough to have a few candidates to select from: choose the better writer. I’ll admit to some bias in gravitating toward this, but it also makes a lot of sense. Estimators need to be able to communicate well, especially through text, whether that is making takeoff notes, creating RFIs, or emailing GCs. If you can find someone who excels in processing and communicating information, the rest can be taught. In my experience, it doesn’t often work the other way around.

Support Their Development

No matter how much you enjoy solving puzzles, it can still be discouraging to sit at your desk, clicking the days away.

There’s no getting around the fact that this position can be a grind sometimes, so it’s important to give your estimators some options outside of their typical job duties.

A couple of ideas:

  • Offering a stipend for continuing education
    • This could be used for conferences, online classes, or certifications. 
  • Scheduling time for them to see their takeoffs being installed in the field
    • No, really – schedule it. Put it on the calendar and stick to it. It’s all too easy for that to get pushed aside if you’re saving it for ‘whenever we have time’.

This exposure can lead to new ideas for your company; people outside the industry are more likely to question why something happens. Maybe it will even lead to a new position inside your company. You go through so much trouble to find and onboard a new candidate – putting that same effort into their development could encourage them to stick around.

 Give Quantifiable Feedback

There is an objectivity in construction that I appreciate. In the field, there is no wondering if something is plumb – you can grab a level and go check. Estimating is not quite as cut and dry, but there is still the opportunity to give specific feedback from completed jobs.

If the PM had to issue a Change Order because the estimator missed something, let them know. Instead of just stopping by their desk and saying, ‘Hey, you missed this,’ show them the real numbers behind that miss. Feedback doesn’t always have to be negative, though. If your estimator was dead on and you hit your target margin for the project, let them know that, too.

It can be incredibly frustrating to just pump out takeoffs and never know how your quantities translated to the actual install. In this new world where remote estimating is a viable option, this feedback is especially necessary to keep your team feeling connected to the company as a whole.

Quality feedback also extends to yearly reviews. Have some real numbers to back up your observations. ‘You’re doing a good job,” is always nice to hear, but that shouldn’t be what a year of work comes down to. 

There is so much data available, so find a way to create some metrics that you can give to your estimators: profit on jobs they took off, average margin on their jobs, how many of their jobs got contracts, etc.

Estimating can be a difficult department to fill in the best of times. If you haven’t had luck finding that candidate who checks all the traditional boxes, I’d encourage you to try looking outside the construction industry. This road can be harder, no doubt. However, if we wanted things to be simple, well, we wouldn’t be in construction.

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