Drafters prepare the plans and drawings that construction and production workers to build a wide array of products, such as toasters, toys, spacecraft, office buildings, and gas pipelines. Their drawings communicate the technical details, provide the visual guidelines, and identify dimensions, materials, and procedures. They use calculations previously made by engineers, surveyors, architects, or scientists, filling in the details based on drawings and rough sketches. Some have technical knowledge in engineering and manufacturing, which they use to design machine parts. To accurately complete their work, they use handbooks, tables, calculators, and computers.
Most drafters today no longer use drawing boards, pencils, and protractors, but instead rely on computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) systems. CADD systems create drawings on video screens and store them electronically. The systems enable drafters to prepare many variations of one design quickly. Although drafters rely on CADD to complete their work efficiently, they still need to have the same knowledge as traditional drafters. In fact, in some applications, manual drafting is still used. Drafters may specialize in aeronautical, architectural, civil, electrical, electronics, mechanical, process, or pipeline drafting.
Drafters need to have mechanical and visual aptitude. They must be able to draw well and maintain a high level of detail and accuracy in their work. Knowledge of manufacturing and construction methods, as well as artistic ability, can be very beneficial, depending on the specialized field. Because they work so closely with engineers, surveyors, architects, other professionals, and sometimes, customers, they need to have well developed interpersonal and communication skills.
The income of drafters varies by specialty. In 2002, architectural and civil drafters earned a median annual salary of $37,330. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $24,570, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $52,260.
In 2002, mechanical drafters earned a median annual salary of $40,730. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $25,950, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $64,780.
In 2002, electrical and electronics drafters earned a median annual salary of $41,090. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $25,710, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $68,000.
Training and Education
Most employers prefer to hire candidates who have postsecondary training in drafting from a technical institute, community college, or a 4-year college or university. They skills employers look for are drafting and mechanical-drawing skills; knowledge of drafting standards, mathematics, science, and engineering technology; and a background in computer-aided design and drafting techniques. All training courses start with math and communication skills and then branch out into a specialized training area.. Many drafting programs are offered from a variety of institutions. Their quality can vary considerably, so students should be very careful when selecting a program. One very effective technique is to contact employers and ask which programs they prefer to hire from. Technical offer more practical-based training, and junior and community colleges offer more general education courses.
Although employers usually do not require drafters to be certified, certification by the American Design Drafting Association (ADDA) can demonstrate a higher level of competency to employers. In order to become certified by ADDA, candidates must pass the Drafter Certification Test, which tests knowledge of drafting concepts, such as geometric construction, working drawings, and architectural terms and standards.
In 2002, drafters held about 216,000 jobs. Half were held by architectural and civil drafters, and a third where held by mechanical drafters.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of drafters is expected to increase more slowly than the average. Growth will result from more complex design problems, and drafters are beginning to take on some of the work traditionally done by engineers and architects. However, growth will be limited by the increased use of CADD equipment, which increases the productivity of drafters. Opportunities will be best for candidates with at least 2 years of postsecondary training in a well-respected drafting program.
For more information on a career as a draftsman, please see our directory of schools offering Computer Drafting Training