How to Become a Cost Engineer: Education and Career Roadmap

Should I Become A Cost Engineer?

Cost engineers, also called cost estimators, gather and evaluate the data required to determine what resources are needed to create products or to finish projects in the most efficient way. These resources include time, money, labor, services and equipment.

Many cost engineers work in industries related to manufacturing, construction, specialty trade, civil engineering, and repair and maintenance. Cost estimators usually work in offices, but they might have to visit construction sites and factories.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field An industry-related major, such as industrial engineering or mechanical engineering
Experience 2-5 years of work experience in an engineering field related to this work
Licensure and Certification Voluntary professional certification is available; some employers hire only certified cost engineers
Key Skills Expertise in industry-specific engineering processes, equipment and raw materials, ability to read blueprints; time-management, analytical and critical-thinking skills, a strong technical mindset, attention to detail. Ability to work under stress and strict deadlines, travel frequently and work long hours
Salary (2016) $78,481 (Median salary for cost engineers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,, O*Net OnLine.

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

Employers look for cost estimators who hold bachelor's degrees related to the industries in which they work. For example, a cost engineer in the construction industry might hold a degree in construction science or management. Aspiring cost engineers could also major in math, informatics, accounting or mechanical engineering. A degree in industrial engineering combines math, applied business and physical science in order to prepare students for careers in the manufacturing, supply chain or industrial engineering fields.

Success Tips:

  • Take coursework specific to an industry. Students who know what industries they want to work in may benefit from taking courses specific to their career paths. A student who knows they want to work as a cost engineer for a civil engineering firm could take courses in construction science and civil engineering.
  • Gain practical experience. Cost engineers usually need hands-on experience specific to their industries in order to qualify for employment. One way to get some of this experience is through internships, cooperative education programs or part-time positions within their specific industries.
  • Familiarize yourself with industry-related software. Cost engineers work with special software programs that help them calculate costs and plan projects. Aspiring cost engineers may benefit from familiarizing themselves with cost calculation and project management software common to the profession.

Step 2: Gain Industry Experience and Climb the Career Ladder

Becoming a cost engineer generally requires years of experience within a specific industry. As such, these professionals typically start out as lower-level workers within their industries and then move on to advanced positions. A cost estimator in the manufacturing industry, for instance, may need to work on the factory floor, gaining hands-on experience with production materials and processes, before being promoted to cost engineer. Newly hired cost engineers usually go through on-the-job training that can last months or years. During this time, they learn the cost estimating procedures specific to their industries and companies.

Step 3: Move Ahead in Your Career by Becoming Certified

Certification is not required to work in this field, but earning professional credentials distinguishes the worker as a knowledgeable professional and can lead to greater career opportunities. The Society of Cost Estimating and Analysis (SCEA) offers the Certified Cost Estimator/Analyst (CCEA) designation to candidates who have bachelor's degrees in any major coupled with at least five years of cost estimating experience (these requirements can be substituted with eight years of cost experience). Those who pass two certification exams are awarded the CCEA designation.

Success Tip:

  • Keep Up with Advancements in the Field. Manufacturing and construction technology are constantly evolving, and cost engineers must stay abreast of these advancements. They might obtain membership in an industry organization like the SCEA, which offers a range of benefits for its members. Cost estimators could also subscribe to industry publications, such as the National Estimator and Journal of Cost Analysis and Parametrics.
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