Welcome to My World, Part 1

Vince Bailey

June 2008

It seems that for one reason or another—whether it be a positive or a negative one—there likely comes a time when a drywall contractor is compelled to hire an estimator, or at least add another one. I say that, and I am writing about it, because I am currently in the process of doing just that, and I tend to operate on the assumption that I am no way unique or special in my engagement with our industry. But this is not going to be an instructive essay on "how to hire an estimator.” That would presume that all such predicaments are similar, and that is a far cry from reality. No, this is a contemplative piece that hints at how to think about approaching the proposition of maybe considering a hypothetical hiring.

Possibly.

So, you’re about to hire a new estimator (or contemplating it). Obviously this is a pivotal proposition that opens up a myriad of considerations, most of them hinging on the particular circumstances or developments surrounding your decision to hire. You may be experiencing a sudden escalation in the volume of projects being proposed in your area and need to either delegate the role you’ve been playing for so many years, or you’re so fortunate that you are just adding another bean counter to your stable of thoroughbred quantifiers. You may simply be preparing and facilitating a well-reckoned plan of steady and sustained growth. Or perhaps you find yourself in the not-so-fortunate and unanticipated circumstance of having to replace a heretofore indispensable member of your procurement team because he/she: a) quit; b) was fired; c) retired; d) went blind (or experienced some other debilitating illness); e) has gone to a better place (either literally or figuratively).

Clearly, in any case, a logical preliminary step to your quest might entail developing a set of criteria for a satisfactory fit. Aside from the obvious prerequisite of being a loyal subscriber to this periodical and an ardent follower of this column, you might consider certain basic qualifications for your position:

Length and depth of experience. You may have the luxury of being able to train a neophyte, or you may be in need of a seasoned quantifier. Either of these options has its obvious advantages.

Familiarity with your particular scope. Apparently, you are looking for someone familiar with metal studs and drywall. But those are the anchor trades in our business. Your company may also engage in such complementary trades as insulation, acoustics, plaster or paint. Don’t assume that your candidate does. Verify.

Has an affinity with your particular procurement/delivery structure. Does your organization utilize a stand-alone estimating department, or does it combine project management with estimating? Let your candidates know.

Familiarity with your software. For that matter, with software (technology at all). Better put: How does a candidate’s technological aptitude enmesh with your organization’s operating level?

Geographical, cultural, labor and market compatibility. This may overlap with the first item—that is to say, a candidate may have extensive experience, but only in one market/area. This could, in some cases, turn a positive to a negative.

You are doubtless beginning to grasp the complexity of this whole dilemma. And so it figures that the next step in your quest depends heavily on where you figure in the above matrix of circumstances. In simpler terms, building a set of hiring criteria depends on what your particular needs are. For instance—and taking the most obvious example, if you are trying to fill the immediately unanticipated vacancy in your program, then you are experiencing the worst of all worlds. You need someone immediately who requires the least amount of training—someone who has experience with your market demographic, knows your estimating software, will adapt quickly to your policies and procedures, and is available right away. Oh, I almost forgot: the waters of the Red Sea will part for his/her arrival.

It is becoming clear to me that this is a critical, relevant and highly complex topic that demands a two-part treatment. Next month we’ll take a hard look at stop-gaps, sources and hiring procedures.

Vince Bailey is an estimator/operations manager for San Juan Insulation and Drywall, Durango, Colo.