Drafters use software to convert the designs of architects and engineers into technical drawings. Most workers specialize in architectural, civil, electrical, or mechanical drafting and use technical drawings to help design everything from microchips to skyscrapers.

Duties

Drafters typically do the following:

  • Design plans using computer-aided design (CAD) software
  • Work from rough sketches and specifications created by engineers and architects
  • Design products with engineering and manufacturing techniques
  • Add details to architectural plans from their knowledge of building techniques
  • Specify dimensions, materials, and procedures for new products
  • Work under the supervision of engineers or architects

Some drafters are referred to as CAD operators. Using CAD systems, drafters create and store technical drawings digitally. These drawings contain information on how to build a structure or machine, the dimensions of the project, and what materials are needed to complete the project.

Drafters work with CAD to create schematics that can be viewed, printed, or programmed directly into building information modeling (BIM) systems. These systems allow drafters, architects, construction managers, and engineers to create and collaborate on digital models of physical buildings and machines. Through three-dimensional rendering, BIM software allows designers and engineers to see how different elements in their projects work together.

The following are examples of types of drafters:

Architectural drafters draw structural features and details for buildings and other construction projects. These workers may specialize in a type of building, such as residential or commercial. They may also specialize by the materials used, such as steel, wood, or reinforced concrete.

Civil drafters prepare topographical maps used in construction and civil engineering projects, such as highways, bridges, and dams.

Electrical drafters prepare wiring diagrams that construction workers use to install and repair electrical equipment and wiring in power plants, electrical distribution systems, and residential and commercial buildings.

Electronics drafters produce wiring diagrams, assembly diagrams for circuit boards, and layout drawings used in manufacturing and in installing and repairing electronic devices and components.

Mechanical drafters prepare layouts that show the details for a variety of machinery and mechanical tools and devices, such as medical equipment. These layouts indicate dimensions, fastening methods, and other requirements for assembly. Mechanical drafters sometimes create production molds.

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Work Environment

Drafters held about 199,900 jobs in 2018. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up drafters was distributed as follows:

Architectural and civil drafters                                    101,200
Mechanical drafters       58,000
Electrical and electronics drafters       25,600
Drafters, all other       15,000

The largest employers of drafters were as follows:

Architectural, engineering, and related services     49%
Manufacturing        25
Construction        10
Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services          4
Wholesale trade          2

Although drafters spend much of their time working on computers in an office, some may visit jobsites to collaborate with architects and engineers.

Work Schedules

Most drafters work full time. Some work more than 40 hours a week.

Education and Training

Drafters typically complete education after high school, often through a program at a community college or technical school. Some programs lead to an associate of applied science in drafting or a related degree. Others result in a certificate or diploma.

Education

Drafters typically need an associate of applied science in drafting or a related degree from a community college or technical school. Some drafters prepare for the occupation by earning a certificate or diploma.

Programs in drafting may include instruction in design fundamentals, sketching, and computer-aided design (CAD) software. It generally takes about 2 years of full-time education to earn an associate’s degree. Certificate and diploma programs vary in length but usually may be completed in less time.

Students frequently specialize in a particular type of drafting, such as mechanical or architectural drafting.  

High school students may begin preparing by taking classes in mathematics, science, computer technology, design, computer graphics, and, where available, drafting.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

The American Design Drafting Association (ADDA) offers certification for drafters. Although not mandatory, certification demonstrates competence and knowledge of nationally recognized practices. Certifications are offered for several specialties, including architectural, civil, and mechanical drafting.

Personality and Interests

Drafters typically have an interest in the Building and Creating interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Creating interest area indicates a focus on being original and imaginative, and working with artistic media.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Creating interest which might fit with a career as a drafter, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Drafters should also possess the following specific qualities:

Critical-thinking skills. Drafters help the architects and engineers they work for by spotting problems with plans and designs.

Detail oriented. Drafters must pay close attention to details so that the plans they are helping to build are technically accurate to the outlined specifications.

Interpersonal skills. Drafters work closely with architects, engineers, and other designers to make sure that final plans are accurate. This requires the ability to take advice and constructive criticism, as well as to offer it.

Math skills. Drafters work with technical drawings that may require solving mathematical calculations involving angles, weights, and costs.

Technical skills. Drafters in all specialties must be able to use computer software, such as CADD, and work with database tools, such as BIM (building information modeling).

Time-management skills. Drafters often work under strict deadlines. As a result, they must work efficiently in order to produce the required output according to set schedules.

Pay

The median annual wage for drafters was $56,830 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,920, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $87,720.

Median annual wages for drafters in May 2019 were as follows:

  • $61,530 for electrical and electronics drafters
  • $57,060 for mechanical drafters
  • $56,340 for architectural and civil drafters
  • $52,830 for drafters, all other

In May 2019, the median annual wages for drafters in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Construction $57,860
Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services 57,650
Architectural, engineering, and related services 56,720
Manufacturing 55,670
Wholesale trade 53,970

Most drafters work full time. Some work more than 40 hours a week.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of drafters is projected to show little or no change from 2018 to 2028. Employment growth will vary by specialty. (See table below.)

Growth in the engineering services and construction industries is expected to account for most new jobs for drafters. However, computer-aided design (CAD) and building information modeling (BIM) technologies allow engineers and architects to perform many tasks that used to be done by drafters, which is expected to temper demand for all drafters.

Job Prospects

Competition for drafting jobs is expected to be strong.

Demand for particular drafting specialties varies across the country because jobs depend on the needs of local industries. For example, job prospects for mechanical drafters should be best in large manufacturing hubs.

Because many drafting jobs are in construction and manufacturing, job opportunities for drafters will be sensitive to fluctuations in the overall economy.

Candidates proficient in CAD and BIM are likely to have better job opportunities.

For More Information

For more information on schools offering programs in drafting and related fields, visit

Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges  

For more information on certification, visit

American Design Drafting Association

 

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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