A few weeks ago, we spoke about how mentorship can improve your business. Even though many estimators work for themselves and subcontract to larger companies, they still often work in teams and have valuable skills and knowledge to teach.
When thinking about how to mentor younger estimators, you need to consider where they are coming from. A generation ago, many estimators entered the industry via cadetships. A mathematically-minded cadet might end up in the estimating department, where they would interpret drawings and get prices, often whilst studying several evenings a week.
A few years in, they might be sent out to site for weeks at a time. They’d trail after foremen, supervisors, engineers and project managers before going back to the office. Gradually, they would earn the trust required that their work was thorough and accurate, and be given more complex tasks.
There were downsides to that time. The potential for human error in calculations was vast, and any estimating software was extremely limited. Big construction and civil engineering companies might have a mainframe from which estimators could input their data and calculations, but come the end of the day if the work wasn’t finished and the deadline was tight, an estimator would have to settle in for the night. There was no taking the project home to work on a PC, let alone a laptop.
Nowadays estimating software is accessible and affordable. However, the pathway through TAFE or university often leaves young estimators with an excellent grasp of theory…. but little or no field experience. Mentoring younger estimators isn’t simply a case of telling them stories about all the tenders you’ve won or projects you’ve seen built. Instead, you should encourage them to step out of the office and gain that site experience for themselves.
It’s the foremen and supervisors who know what’s really going on. For a young estimator, observing and soaking up all the different dynamics of a project, the ebb and flow of a job, is a terrific opportunity to build memory and hone instincts about construction. Yes, the industry is varied, but similar scenarios will crop up time and time again, and potential problems can be anticipated much more easily because they have been seen before.
The best mentoring an experienced estimator can offer is encouraging younger colleagues to go out and gain that site experience, then encouraging them to talk about what they’ve seen. Listen, ask questions that lead them along the path of critical thinking, and help them translate what they’ve seen back into the resources and schedules of the next estimate they prepare.
If you are a younger estimator, seek that experience in the field yourself, then have conversations with more experienced estimators. Don’t take their word as gospel, but listen, validate, then get out there and make the most of a truly rewarding career!
Glen Townsley is the founder of Pronamics, and has spent over 30 years building estimating software after a successful career as a civil estimator and project manager.