AutoCAD drafters are design professionals that use computer-aided design (CAD) software for drafting technical drawings used in the production and construction of complex objects and structures. The technical drawings AutoCAD drafters create are used in architecture, engineering, aerospace and just about any discipline where something is being designed and built.
How are technical drawings created? CAD software replaces paper drawings of the past with digital prototypes that can be designed, drafted, and shared electronically. One vendor in particular, Autodesk offers the leading software for 2D and 3D design. The company's AutoCAD allows drafters to bring their design ideas to life using powerful drawing and documentation tools. AutoCAD drafters are industry recognized professionals, and in the areas of architecture and civil drafting especially, AutoCAD drafters are in demand.
What do AutoCAD drafters do?
Depending on their specialties, AutoCAD drafters design a broad range of objects, products and structures. From the smallest of microchips to the largest of spacecraft, AutoCAD can be used to create a visual representation for what is to be built. AutoCAD drafters work closely with engineers. Often, they'll receive rough sketches or drawings and calculations from engineers and then complete the design by filling in the technical detail. What AutoCAD drafters produce is a detailed visualization containing technical specifications. These visualizations include guidelines for how something is built, and other construction or design details such as the dimensions, materials, and procedures involved.
AutoCAD drafters may specialize in a particular area of design. The following are examples of AutoCAD specialties and the type of work each drafter would complete:
- Architectural drafters: Drafters in the architectural discipline design buildings and elements of buildings such as walls, windows and doors. Some drafters in this discipline will further specialize in a particular type of material such as concrete or steel. Architectural drafters use AutoCAD Architecture as the version of software for their discipline.
- Civil drafters: Civil drafters focus on designing civil engineering projects such as highways, bridges, or water and sewage systems. AutoCAD Civil 3D is used to design and document these types of projects.
- Aeronautical drafters: Drafters in the aeronautical industry create plans used in the manufacturing of aircraft, missiles and related parts.
- Mechanical drafters: Mechanical drafters design machinery and mechanical devices. AutoCAD Mechanical is the software version drafters use in manufacturing.
How do you become an AutoCAD drafter?
Most AutoCAD drafters have engineering or similar backgrounds and have received education in the form of at least an associate or bachelor's degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that employers prefer candidates "who have completed postsecondary school training in drafting, which is offered by technical institutes, community colleges, and some four-year colleges and universities."
AutoCAD drafters excel in subject areas such as math, science, computer technology and, in some cases, graphic design. Depending on the degree program, there will be varying degrees of general education classes. Those pursuing an education at a technical institute receive intensive technical training in drafting, with fewer requirements in other subject areas. Those pursuing training at a community college will receive similar instruction but there will likely be added curriculum elements such as drafting theory. Students who attend a four-year college or university for their education will not necessarily learn the technique of drafting, but they will focus their training in engineering, math, or architectural disciplines.
In addition to formal education, AutoCAD drafters must learn the Autodesk software toolset. AutoCAD training can take the form of third-party vendor training or using one of the many resources available from the Autodesk website. Those drafters who seek professional certification in AutoCAD software will give themselves a strong competitive edge. Autodesk certifications are industry-recognized credentials that signal to an employer a thorough understanding of the software as well as the drafting discipline.
According to the AutoCAD 2011 Autodesk Certification Exam Preparation Roadmap, AutoCAD certifications "provide reliable validation of skills and knowledge, and they can lead to accelerated professional development, improved productivity and enhanced credibility." Two levels of credential are available: the introductory AutoCAD Certified Associate and the more advanced AutoCAD Certified Professional. To obtain the more advanced certification, one must pass the exams at both levels. Hands-on experience with AutoCAD software is critical in preparing for either exam.
Job outlook for AutoCAD drafters
According to the BLS there were 251,900 drafters in the U.S. in 2008. Almost half of these worked in architectural and civil drafting. Over the 2008-2018 decade we will see drafting jobs grow by about 4 percent. Architectural and civil drafting jobs will grow even faster, at 9 percent. The BLS states that "increases in overall construction activity stemming from U.S. population growth and the related need to improve the Nation's infrastructure should spur demand for drafters trained in architectural and civil design." These job opportunities will be best for workers that have received formal training in drafting, and especially those that maintain proficiency in the latest drafting technologies, like AutoCAD.
An AutoCAD drafter's salary
Just as job prospects vary by drafting specialty, so does a drafter's earnings. The BLS reports that mean annual wages for architectural and civil drafting occupations were $48,740 as of May 2010, with the top 10 percent earning more than $72,000. Mechanical drafters earned annual mean wages of $51,200 with the highest 10 percent earning more than $75,000.