Architecture and engineering are two major industries in the US, employing more than 2.3 million individuals nationally in 2013. Within those industries, drafters are responsible for playing a support role, responsible for converting and drafting engineering and architectural designs into technical plans.
Prospective students can select from a variety of career tracks within drafting including: architecture, civil engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical and electronics engineering.
Architectural drafter. Architectural drafters are responsible for using specialized software to translate architectural designs into technical drawings of planned structures or buildings. Other standard tasks may include the following:
- Analyze building codes or site requirements
- Visit job sites to coordinate measurements
- Create sketches of buildings, foundations or other structures using architectural specifications
- Handle design corrections to meet compliance requirements
Common job titles: architectural designer, CAD technician, architectural draftsman
Civil drafter. Civil drafters are traditionally responsible for creating technical drawings and maps for civil engineering projects, such as runways, bridges, highways and more. Additional job tasks may include the following:
- Using computer-assisted drafting systems (CAD) to produce topographical maps or diagrams
- Drafting plans for a variety of construction projects
- Duplicating technical drawings into other mediums such as blueprints or photographs
- Ensuring designs and drawings conform to civil engineer specifications
Common job titles: computer-aided design technician, civil CAD technician, computer-aided design operator, civil CAD tech
Mechanical drafter. Mechanical drafters are responsible for using computer-assisted drafting equipment to produce technical drawings and designs for a variety of mechanical equipment and machines. They may also handle the following tasks:
- Coordinating with mechanical engineers to resolve design problems
- Build design schematics for machinery production
- Use mathematical formulas to meet detailed design specifications
- Create blueprints for machine systems or parts
Common job titles: mechanical designer, CAD designer, computer-aided manufacturing specialist, installation drafter
Electronic drafter. Electronic drafters are responsible for using computer-aided drafting software to produce technical drawings of circuit boards, wiring diagrams, and electrical layouts used in the manufacturing, installation or repair of electrical equipment. Electronic drafters may also do the following:
- Collaborate on design concepts with engineers
- Build database libraries of design projects
- Calculate mathematical figures within engineering schematics
- Consult with vendors or assemblers on customer requirements
Common job titles: layout designer, printed circuit board PCB draftsman, integrated circuit (IC) layout designer, printed circuit board (PCB) designer
CAD technician education and degrees
Prospective CAD technicians have multiple education avenues available to enter the industry at-large, including associate and bachelor's degrees, as well as post-secondary certificate programs. These programs are available at vocational schools, community colleges, technical institutes and -- in some cases -- four-year universities.
Employment survey data from ONET, reveals that individuals working in each occupational specialty area have a range of educational backgrounds.
- Bachelor's degree: 68%
- Post-baccalaureate certificate: 15%
- Some college, no degree: 8%
- Associate degree: 57%
- Post-secondary certificate: 29%
- Some college, no degree: 5%
- Associate degree: 40%
- Bachelor's degree: 23%
- Post-secondary certificate: 22%
- Associate: 51%
- Post-secondary certificate: 38%
- Bachelor's degree: 9%
Because there are multiple educational avenues, students can select a program that meets their future professional needs and personal goals. Example degree programs include Associate of Applied Science in drafting and design technology, Associate of Applied Science in architectural and civil drafting, Associate of Applied Science in drafting technology, Associate of Applied Science in engineering CAD technology.
Depending on the specific course of study, students may encounter diverse curriculums, built upon the foundational principles of drafting and use of computer-aided design equipment and software. Example courses could include the following:
- CAD Methods
- Visualization techniques
- Design sustainability
- Parametric modeling
- 3D modeling
- 2D modeling
- Architectural drafting
- Civil engineering drafting
- Architectural detailing
- Structural drafting
- Plane surveying
CAD technician certification options
The American Drafting Design Association (ADDA) is the national standard-bearer for CAD certification. The ADDA offers multiple certification options including:
Apprentice drafter (AD). To qualify, apprentice drafters must have at least one year of on-the-job training or have completed between 400 and 600 hours of discipline specific educational study.
Certified Drafter (CD). To qualify, certified drafters must have at least two years of on-the-job training or have completed between 800 and 1,200 hours of discipline specific educational study.
Certified Design Drafter/Certified Digital Designer. The examination is designed for professionals with advanced training and three to five years of work experience in their specific discipline.
Certified Design Technician/Certified Digital Technician (CDT). The examination is designed for professionals with advanced training and five or more years of work experience in their specific discipline.
The ADDA has regulations around the examination process, renewal procedure and more. Graduates of CAD technician programs desiring certification should check the latest ADDA requirements prior to taking any certification examination.
In addition to industry certification, CAD technicians may also pursue vendor-specific certifications from major vendors including Autodesk, Solid Works or Inventor. For example, Autodesk offers the following certifications:
- Autodesk Certified User
- Autodesk Certified Professional
- Autodesk Certified Specialist
- Autodesk Simulation Moldflow Certification
Career and salary outlook for CAD technicians
Job growth for CAD technicians between 2012 and 2022 is projected to be mild at best and decreasing at worst, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov). Electrical and electronic drafters are expected to have the best career opportunities, with projected 9.6 percent job growth occurring between 2012 and 2022.
Below is a list of 2012 and 2022 employment projections by specialty, from the BLS:
- Drafters: 1.1%
- Architectural and civil drafters: 0.8%
- Mechanical drafters: -4.9%
- Electrical drafters: 9.6%
While job projections are tepid, annual average earnings for drafters are not. Drafters earned annual salaries between $50,000 and $60,500 nationally in 2013, according to the BLS. Below is the national average earnings by specialty for drafters in 2013:
- Architectural and civil drafters: $51,250
- Electrical and electronic drafters: $60,350
- Mechanical drafters: $54,510
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Drafters, OOH, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/drafters.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Architectural and Civil Drafters, OES, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes173011.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mechanical Drafters, OES, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes173013.htm
ONET, Architectural Drafters, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/17-3011.01
ONET, Mechanical Drafters, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/17-3013.00
ONET, Civil Drafters, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/17-3011.02
ONET, Electronic Drafter, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/17-3012.01
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Electrical Drafters, OES, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes173012.htm
ADDA, Professional Certification, http://www.adda.org/index.php/professional/professional-certification
Autodesk Certification, http://usa.autodesk.com/adsk/servlet/index?id=14238652&siteID=123112
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Architecture and Engineering Occupations, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes170000.htm
ADDA, Examination Outline, http://www.adda.org/files/2012-ExamApp-AD.pdf