Drafter Job Description, Career as a Drafter, Salary, Employment
Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job
Education and Training High school plus two years of training
Salary Median—$39,190 to $43,180 per year
Employment Outlook Fair
Definition and Nature of the Work
Drafters, who are sometimes called computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) specialists, prepare technical drawings and plans. These plans are used by production and construction workers to build products such as toys, coffee makers, machinery, airplanes, houses, and oil pipelines. Drafters' drawings show the technical details of the products and structures, and specify dimensions, materials, and procedures. Most drafters now use CADD systems to prepare drawings. Drafters are employed by construction, engineering, and manufacturing firms. They are also employed in the electronics industry.
Drafters' expertise in drawing, coupled with the ever-growing capabilities of the computer, produces elaborate designs efficiently and accurately. A CADD system can correct errors and even alert the operator that errors are being made. It can also rearrange or repeat portions of the overall design, change drawing sizes and proportions, and rotate a drawing on the computer screen to show it at different angles. To perform such functions, drafters use graphics tablets, light pens, digitizers, and cursor pads.
Some drafters simply produce drawings from sketches or specifications that someone else, such as an engineer or clothing designer, has developed. Others do the actual creating, using the CADD system to document their designs.
Drafters are sometimes classified according to the fields they work in. For example, architectural drafters draw plans for houses, office complexes, shopping centers, schools, and other buildings. Electrical drafters make drawings of electrical systems, such as those in power plants, factories, or municipal lighting systems. Mechanical drafters prepare drawings that are used in the manufacture of machinery, tools, automobile parts, and other mechanical products. There are many other kinds of drafting specialists, including aeronautical drafters, electronic drafters, marine drafters, and structural drafters.
Drafters are also classified by the kind of work that they do and the amount of responsibility that they have. Senior drafters take the rough plans of the architects, engineers, or designers and translate them into overview drawings called layouts. Detailers make more specific drawings of the various parts shown on a layout. They include dimensions, materials, and other specifications. Checkers examine each drawing for errors. Finally, tracers copy the corrected drawings to prepare them for the blueprinter. They usually trace them onto thin paper or transparent plastic film. In addition, tracers sometimes make minor corrections on the drawings.
Technical illustrators prepare drawings that help users to assemble, install, operate, and maintain equipment. They draw pictures and diagrams for the people who buy, use, and repair equipment rather than for the workers who make it. For example, some technical illustrators make drawings that are used in repair manuals or sales literature for the electronic components used in stereo systems. Others create the diagrams and drawings that come with model cars and ships. Still other technical illustrators prepare illustrations for the manuals that tell pilots how to operate an airplane or helicopter.
Education and Training Requirements
Expertise in drafting and design is as important to an aspiring drafter, as are strong CADD techniques. Vocational schools, community colleges, and the armed forces offer training in drafting, but these programs vary considerably in quality. Prospective students should be careful in selecting a program. Most four-year colleges usually do not offer such training, but college courses in engineering, architecture, and mathematics are useful for obtaining a job as a drafter. Many have added CADD courses to their computer science, engineering, and architecture programs. In addition, many CADD training courses are likely to be available near large companies that use CADD systems, such as the automotive centers in Michigan.
The American Design Drafting Association (ADDA) has a certification program for drafters. Individuals who wish to become certified must pass a test on basic drafting concepts.
Getting the Job
Opportunities will likely be best for individuals with at least two years of post-secondary training in drafting, and considerable skill and experience using CADD systems. Ask your instructors or placement office for help in finding a job. Some schools use the CADD systems of local employers to give their students hands-on experience. If your school has done this, you may be able to apply to that employer for a position. You can also apply directly to architectural, engineering, or manufacturing firms. You might also check the newspaper classifieds and job banks on the Internet.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
CADD specialists with several years of experience may advance to supervisory positions. They may train other employees in the use of CADD systems, or they may become drafting supervisors in companies with large drafting departments. Some specialists return to school to become engineers or architects.
Employment of drafters is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2014. Although industrial growth will increase the demand for drafting services, drafters tend to be concentrated in slowly growing or declining manufacturing industries. In addition, CADD files can be emailed or uploaded, so less expensive workers in other countries are often used, which dampens job growth in this field. Most job openings will arise to replace workers who are retiring or transferring to other occupations.
Drafters usually work in well-lighted, air-conditioned offices. They must sit in front of computer terminals for long periods. As a result, they may suffer from eyestrain. At times CADD specialists may have to work overtime to meet project deadlines. They usually work independently at their terminals. However, they must be able to communicate well with architects, engineers, designers, or others whose directions they must follow.
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings for CADD specialists vary according to their areas of specialization, in which part of the country they work, and their level of responsibility. In 2004 median annual earnings were $39,190 for architectural and civil drafters, $43,000 for mechanical drafters, and $43,180 for electrical and electronics drafters. Benefits for specialists who work for large institutions include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.
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