Pros and Cons of a CAD Technician Career
CAD technicians, also referred to as drafters or CAD operators, use computer-aided design software to turn rough drafts, sketches and drawings into designs that can be used to build almost anything. Check out the pros and cons below to decide if this is the right career choice for you.
|Pros of Becoming a CAD Technician|
|Decent wage potential (averaging about $55,000 as of May 2014)*|
|Associate's degree sufficient for entry-level position*|
|Work available in various industries*|
|Groundwork laid for transfer to 4-year college*|
|Cons of Becoming a CAD Technician|
|Sluggish-to-average job growth (-5%-13% growth predicted between 2012 and 2022, depending upon specialty)*|
|May be required to spend long periods sitting*|
|Not much flexibility in working hours*|
|May be at risk for disorders such as eye strain, back strain or carpel tunnel syndrome*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Essential Career Info
CAD technicians use their knowledge of manufacturing and engineering to design and create drawings using computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) software, such as AutoCAD. While working with engineers and architects, they create designs from sketches and blueprints. Unlike hand drawing, computer-aided designs can be edited, saved and printed; technicians may prepare several versions of the same design so that engineers can review them. The CAD technician creates the design with the dimensions and materials that will be used in the project. Once the design has been approved, it may go to manufacturing where the finished product is created or to the construction team that will use the plan in the building or modifying of a structure.
Career Paths and Specializations
Drafting and CAD designs are used in various industries, including architecture, manufacturing and even fashion design. Specializing in a specific area of drafting may improve your employment options. CAD technicians may work as electrical and electronic drafters, architectural and civil drafters, or as mechanical drafters. Some other career titles include drafter, CAD designer, mechanical design, design technician and design drafter.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), overall employment of drafters was predicted to grow one percent from 2012-2022. However, growth will vary by specialty. For instance, employment of electrical and electronic drafters was projected to grow ten percent (average compared to all occupations), while architectural and civil drafters would experience little to no growth (below average). Mechanical drafters would see a decline of jobs by five percent (far below average). The BLS also reported drafters proficient in maintaining large databases would be in high demand.
Wages for drafters, much like the job growth, vary by specialty. As of May 2014, mechanical drafters earned a mean annual salary of $55,260, while electrical and electronic drafters averaged $62,040. Alternatively, architectural and civil drafters made $52,480 on average, whereas drafters that fell in the 'all other' category averaged $53,450.
To become a CAD technician, you typically need to complete a formal training program. CAD training is available through certificate and diploma programs offered at community colleges, technical/vocational schools and universities. However, the BLS says employers may prefer to hire those with an associate's degree, also available at community colleges.
The curriculum of these programs typically includes classroom studies with extensive time spent in computer labs; this enables students to obtain hands-on training working with CAD software. In addition to possessing mechanical aptitude, drafters should also have a strong background in math. Course topics may include graphics animation, CAD design, drawing and document management, sketching fundamentals, drawing and editing commands, AutoCAD and geometric construction.
Job Postings from Real Employers
Job requirements often vary by employer and the industry in which you're applying. This is particularly so with a CAD technician position because drafting and CAD are used in so many industries. Here are some examples of real job postings found online in April 2012.
- A company in Georgia was looking for an entry-level CAD technician to join their team. Job duties included creating assembly drawings, 3-D project drawings and presentation drawings using Autodesk Inventor software. Applicants should have had a high school diploma, drafting and CAD experience, and experience with AutoCAD 2004 or newer version.
- A North Carolina engineering company was seeking a CAD technician who was experienced in using AutoCAD software and drafting markups from engineers and designers. Applicants should also have had an AutoCAD certificate or an associate's degree in drafting. Candidates would work as part of a team designing mechanical/electrical/plumbing (MEP) systems. Although not required, knowledge of Revit BIM software and Microsoft Office products was a plus.
- A Denver engineering company was seeking an electrical CAD technician interested in working on a long-term basis. Applicants must have had at least three years of experience with AutoCAD and a solid knowledge of AutoCAD X-refs. Additionally, experience in doing Bill of Materials and creating alarm system layouts would be beneficial. Candidates would design shop drawings and graphic maps, while also making technical edits and changes.
How to Maximize Your Skills
Although drafters are not required to be certified, employers tend to look more favorably on those who are, according to the BLS. Certification demonstrates your proficiency at drafting and your knowledge of the nationally recognized standards. The American Design Drafting Association (ADDA) offers several levels of certification programs for drafters in several different specialties.
Learn Multiple CAD Programs
Online job postings indicate that many employers look for candidates who are skilled in AutoCAD. If you are looking to stand out in the crowd, you may want to consider learning other CAD programs, such as Revit or SolidWorks to show you are current with new CAD technologies.
Other Fields to Consider
If you're still not sure that a CAD technician is the right career for you, there are other fields you may wish to consider. Here are some other careers related to CAD design.
Civil Engineering Technician
Civil engineering technicians assist civil engineers in the planning and designing of major projects, such as bridges, highways and utilities. This career may also give you more variety, because in addition to sitting in an office, you may visit job sites where projects are being constructed. Although this career may be possible without a degree, most civil engineering technicians complete an associate's degree program. The BLS predicted these workers would have an employment growth of 12% from 2010-2020. As of May 2011, these technicians earned an average salary of around $48,000.
Another career you may wish to consider is architecture, particularly if creativity is important to you. Architects are the masterminds behind the design and construction of building and structures. However, this field requires more educational requirements than what is required for CAD technicians. To become an architect, you must earn at least a bachelor's degree (or a master's degree in some cases), complete an internship and pass the Architect Registration Examination. According to the BLS, architects can expect an employment growth of 24% - much faster than average - between 2010 and 2020. As of May 2011, architects (except landscape and naval) earned around $79,000 on average.