Education and Training: College plus training
Salary: Median—$45,015 per year
Employment Outlook: Varies—see profile
Definition and Nature of the Work
Specification writers describe to builders the different types of materials used in construction projects. They also instruct builders on how to use the materials. These descriptions or specifications cover everything from the type of concrete used in the foundation to the type of paint used on the front door.
Specifications are important because they provide legal protection for the owner, the architect, the contractor, and any other people involved in a construction project. In the bidding process the architect presents the plans and specifications to construction firms and asks them to submit a bid, or price quote. Contractors from the construction firms then determine what they must charge to build the project. Usually the contractor who submits the lowest bid is awarded the contract. The specifications then become a part of the legal contract that binds all parties concerned. Therefore, the specification writer is an essential member of the construction industry.
The specification writer is especially important on large construction projects, because different parts of the project may be designed by different people and offices. It is the specification writer's job to make sure that the pieces fit together. For instance, the heating and cooling system chosen for a building must work effectively with the particular kind of glass chosen for windows. The specification writer has to be aware of the products on the market, and he or she keeps a library of catalogs and other information for designers and architects to use. The specification writer's product is a building manual, almost always created by computer, that can be easily interpreted by government agencies and easily used by contractors.
Education and Training Requirements
Developers and architects prefer to work with a specification writer who has a bachelor's degree in architecture or another construction-related field. Some will also accept a candidate with equivalent work experience in the construction industry. To prepare for a career as a specification writer, high school students should take courses in mathematics, drafting, mechanical drawing, and shop. Courses in physics and other sciences will provide an understanding of the qualities of various materials. Computer skills should be developed. And because specification writers must express themselves clearly, English and other communication courses are essential. Just as important would be a summer job as a helper in an architectural firm, as a construction laborer, or in a building materials supply firm. Many things about construction can be learned only by working in the industry.
After high school, prospective specification writers should choose a college program in which they learn about engineering, architecture, design, building materials, drafting, and estimating. Vocational and technical schools may offer training that will be satisfactory for specification writers at smaller companies.
Getting the Job
Many specification writers are employed by architects or large architectural firms that hire people only for specification writing. In many cases, however, specification writers also have other duties. Frequently, the person who makes the drawings or someone in the design area of the firm writes the specifications. A few companies specialize in specification writing.
Because specification writing requires some on-the-job training, most new employees will probably start out as an assistant design technician, a junior drafter, or some other kind of trainee. A first step in getting a job should be to contact local architectural firms. Local government may also have openings for specification writers. A civil service examination would probably be required of applicants. Other sources of job information are state employment services, job banks on the Internet, newspaper classified ads, and the placement office of a technical school or college.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Advancement in this field depends mostly on education, skill, and experience. Trainees can become fully qualified specification writers or senior drafters. They may also become purchasing agents with a construction firm. Specification writers may become architects after receiving more education. The need for specification writers almost always depends on the level of activity in the construction industry, which depends on general economic conditions.
Many specification writers work in offices where they can easily research materials in catalogs, use specification files, and consult with other people involved with the project. Most of them prepare their building manuals using specially designed computer software. Specification writers may have to visit job sites and materials manufacturers.
Specification writers normally work a forty-hour week, but overtime may be required to meet deadlines. In some cases employees are paid extra for overtime work or given extra time off at a later date.
Where to Go for More Information
Construction Specifications Institute
99 Canal Center Plaza, Ste. 300
Alexandria, VA 22314-1791
Earnings and Benefits
The income of a specification writer depends on the size of the company and its projects, as well as its geographical location. The employee's education, training, and experience are also significant factors. Salary.com reports that the median income of a specification writer in April 2006 was $45,015 per year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that in 2004 the median annual salary of technical writers was $53,490. Benefits vary with different companies. Some specification writers receive health and life insurance, a pension plan, sick leave, and paid vacations.