Drafters use software to convert the designs of architects and engineers into technical drawings and plans. 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 and drafting (CADD) software
  • Work from rough sketches and specifications created by engineers and architects
  • Help design products with engineering and manufacturing techniques
  • Add details to architectural plans from their knowledge of building techniques
  • Prepare multiple versions of designs for review by engineers and architects
  • Specify dimensions, materials, and procedures for new products
  • Work under the supervision of engineers or architects

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

Drafters work with CADD so they can create schematics that can be viewed, printed, or programmed directly into building information modeling (BIM) systems and product data management (PDM) 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. PDM software helps workers track and control data, such as technical specifications, related to projects.

Just as BIM is changing the work of architectural drafters, PDM is changing the work of mechanical drafters. These software systems allow drafting and design work to be done simultaneously with the work done by other professionals involved in the project.

The following are examples of types of drafters:

Aeronautical drafters prepare engineering drawings that show detailed plans and specifications used in manufacturing aircraft, missiles, and related parts.

Architectural drafters draw architectural and structural features of buildings for 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 major construction or civil engineering projects, such as highways, bridges, and flood-control projects.

Electrical drafters prepare wiring diagrams that other 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 wide variety of machinery and mechanical tools and devices, such as medical equipment. These layouts indicate dimensions, fastening methods, and other requirements needed for assembly. Workers sometimes create production molds.

Process piping or pipeline drafters prepare plans used in the layout, construction, and operation of oil and gas fields, refineries, chemical plants, and process piping systems.

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Work Environment

Drafters held about 199,800 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most drafters in 2012 were as follows:

Architectural, engineering, and related services 47%
Manufacturing 28
Construction 7

Work Schedules

Although drafters usually work with computers in an office, some projects require visits to a job site in order to collaborate with architects and engineers.

Most drafters work full time.

Education and Training

Drafters typically need specialized training, which can be accomplished through a technical program that leads to a certificate or an associate’s degree in drafting.

Education

Employers generally prefer applicants who have completed postsecondary education in drafting, typically a 2-year associate’s degree from a technical institute or community college.

Technical institutes offer instruction in design fundamentals, sketching, and CADD (computer-aided design and drafting) software. They award certificates or diplomas, and programs vary considerably in length and in the types of courses offered. Some institutions may only specialize in one type of drafting, such as mechanical or electrical drafting.

Community colleges offer programs similar to those in technical institutes but typically include more classes in drafting theory and often require general education classes. After completing an associate’s degree program, graduates may get jobs as drafters or continue their education in a related field at a 4-year college. Most 4-year colleges do not offer training in drafting, but they do offer classes in engineering, architecture, and mathematics. Courses taken at community colleges are more likely to be accepted for credit at colleges or universities.

To prepare for postsecondary education, high school students who take courses in mathematics, science, computer technology, design, computer graphics, and where available, drafting, may find such classes useful.

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 $49,630 in May 2012. 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 $32,190, and the top 10 percent earned more than $77,770.

The median wages for detailed drafting occupations in May 2012 were as follows:

  • $55,700 for electrical and electronics drafters
  • $50,360 for mechanical drafters
  • $47,870 for architectural and civil drafters
  • $46,110 for drafters, all other

Although drafters usually work with computers in an office, some projects require visits to a job site in order to collaborate with architects and engineers.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of drafters is projected to show little or no change from 2012 to 2022. Employment growth will vary by specialty.

Employment of architectural and civil drafters is projected to show little or no change from 2012 to 2022. Although construction projects will likely result in some demand for architectural and civil drafters, efficiencies gained from computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) and building information modeling (BIM) will continue to reduce the need for these specialists.

Employment of electrical and electronics drafters is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Electrical and electronics drafters will continue to be needed to work on the electrical system designs in buildings, cars, and devices that have electrical systems. However, employment growth might be tempered as computer software and database tools continue to make workers more efficient.

Employment of mechanical drafters is projected to decline 5 percent from 2012 to 2022. Although some mechanical drafters will to be needed to aid in designing machines, vehicles, and medical equipment, most of these workers are employed in declining or slow-growing manufacturing industries, offering few opportunities for growth from industry expansion.

CADD systems that are more user friendly and more powerful than current systems will allow other technical professionals, such as engineering technicians and engineers, to perform many tasks previously done by drafters. This development may curb demand for all specialty drafters. In addition, some drafting work may be outsourced to other countries at lower wages, further reducing the need for these workers.

Still, software such as PDM (product data management) and BIM (building information modeling) will require drafters to collaborate with other design workers, such as architects and engineers, on projects, whether constructing a new building or manufacturing a new product. This software requires that someone build and maintain large databases. Skilled drafters with knowledge of these systems will be needed to oversee these databases.

Job Prospects

Overall competition for jobs should be strong.

Specifically, architectural and civil drafters may experience more competition for jobs than mechanical or electrical drafters due to the number of students graduating in those drafting specialties. Typically, the number of graduates in architectural and civil programs greatly exceeds the number of available positions.

Demand for particular drafting specialties varies across the country because jobs depend on the needs of local industries. 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 BIM and PDM 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

FAQ

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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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