Estimating Class Takes Off

Don Procter

February 2008

For proof that drywall estimating courses are as rare as snow in Southern California, just talk to students in one of the classes at the Interior Systems Contractor Association of Ontario. Ask them where they are from and what brought them to take a course at the association’s training center in Toronto.

Chances are you’ll find many them hail from the United States and other provinces in Canada. Vincent Cramer traveled all the way from Alaska to Toronto to take the four-day course in commercial estimating because it was the only practical-based format geared to drywall he could find. It proved to be a smart move, says the part-owner of Jakes and Associates Incorporated, one of the largest drywall contractors in the northern-most state.

"Being a self-taught estimator, I found holes in my system that the instructor fine-tuned for me. For instance, he showed me how to track my work by color coding my walls so I know what I’ve estimated and what I haven’t estimated.”

Cramer was one of eight American students in the first class presented at ISCA’s training center in Toronto in late October. While most of the students had previous estimating experience, head instructor Clint Kissoon says the intent is to provide a "more structured” and comprehensive means of scoping the job "so they don’t leave out something to the detriment of their company.”

That is the kind of thing contractors like to hear. But while the course might provide the only hands-on estimating curriculum strictly devoted to drywall in North America, it can only cover so much in four days so organizers plan to split the format into two classes this year (2008)—a basic course and an advanced course. The advanced session will include computer time with estimating software programs like Quick Bid to calculate pricing. Estimating jobs that involve exterior insulation and finish systems—missing from the basic course—will also be addressed in the advanced class, Kissoon says.

For Robert Hopkins, a student in the first basic class, that is precisely the direction organizers at ISCA should be going. A small residential contractor based in Delta, Ohio, who does his own take-offs, he suggests that most students will have experience doing material take-offs; it’s time on the computer with "drywall-specific” estimating software that they need.

He also recommends organizers of the Toronto courses incorporate actual sets of prints because it is difficult to do take-offs with missing information, such as elevations and other vital drawing details. In his experience doing some material take-offs for another Ohio-based contractor, "accurate” drywall estimators don’t grow on trees.

"There have been large differences in the material quantities from one company to the next with a variety of methods used to arrive at those numbers,” Hopkins says.

ISCA plans to offer three basic and three advanced classes this year, Kissoon says. Tuition per student is $500 Canadian for Ontarians and $1,200 for out-of-province and American students. Students can also take other online estimating courses to obtain a certificate in construction estimating from George Brown College, a Toronto community college that teamed up with ISCA to offer the basic and advanced classes. The certificate courses include construction planning and scheduling; project management, cost control and a course in administration. To obtain a certificate, students must be tested on site.

Hugh Laird, executive director of ISCA, isn’t entirely surprised that the courses have drawn so many Americans. The program has been heavily advertised stateside through trade journals and mailings to members of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry.

"No one else we know of puts on courses like this,” he adds.

About the Author
Don Procter is free-lance writer in Ontario, Canada.