Computer Drafting & Design Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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Learn about careers in computer drafting and design. Get job descriptions, salary and education requirement information. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a computer drafting and design career.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Computer Drafting and Design

Computer drafters and designers use software to create plans and drawings for a variety of structures, ranging from buildings to mechanical devices. While there are many careers in computer drafting and design, some of the most prevalent are drafter, industrial designer and architect. Here they are at a glance:

Drafter Industrial Designer Architect
Career Overview Drafters create technical drawings using specialized computer software. Industrial designers draft concepts for products. Architects create drawings and design structures.
Education Requirements Associate's degreeBachelor's degreeBachelor of Architecture Degree or master's degree
Program Length Two years, full-timeFour years, full-timeFive years, full-time for bachelor's degree, 1-5 years for master's degree
Additional/Other Training N/AN/AThree year training period
Certification and Licensing Voluntary certification is available through the American Design Drafting Association.N/ALicense required in all states and the District of Columbia, voluntary certification is available.
Job Outlook for 2014-2024 No growth (-3%)* Slower than average growth (2%) compared to all occupations*Faster than average growth (7%) compared to all occupations*
Mean Salary (2014) Roughly $54,850* Roughly $67,030* Roughly $80,490 (for all architects, except landscape and naval)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Drafter

Drafters use computer-aided drafting and design (CADD) software to create technical drawings. They may produce designs for products, make architectural renderings or work to create electronic, mechanical or aeronautical drawings. In this position, you'll follow the plans of engineers, architects and other specialists to create designs that can be viewed in 3-D, printed and modified.

Requirements

Employers generally require drafters to have an associate's degree. Many technical institutes and community colleges offer CADD certificate, diploma and associate's degree programs and courses. Some specializations, including architecture, require a bachelor's degree.

In November 2012, employers advertised for the following:

  • In New York, a security device company needed a drafter to manage the company's print system. Strong communication skills and 3-D modeling, manufacturing and tooling experience were preferred.
  • In New Jersey, a machine company sought a drafter to create detailed drawings based on sketches, perform revisions, maintain files and work with printers. Candidates were required to have graduated from a technical school and earned at least five years of experience.
  • An HVAC company in Colorado sought a drafter to create drawings, verify specifications, maintain databases and contribute to group efforts. Applicants were required to have an understanding of AutoCAD and drafting tools.

Standing Out

You can stand out as a drafter by earning a voluntary certification. The American Design Drafting Association offers a certification that can be earned by passing an exam. You can also set yourself apart by staying informed about changes in software. Since this career field is particularly impacted by changes in technology, employers seek candidates who can use the latest technology and are aware of changing trends in the industry.

Industrial Designer

Industrial designers create plans for products that may include machines, packaging, toys or appliances. They perform research, create sketches using hand drawings and computer software and work with clients and marketers to ensure their designs are safe and effective. In this career, you'll spend most of your time in an office working on drawings and using computers. However, depending on the type of products you design, you may conduct some research in the field.

Requirements

To become an industrial designer, you'll need a bachelor's degree. An industrial design or engineering major will cover design principals, materials and CADD software. Most employers will also require a portfolio that includes samples of your work.

In November 2012, employers sought the following qualities:

  • In New York, a large energy company sought an industrial designer to create innovative communication products and appliances. Applicants needed experience, analytical skills and a customer-focused attitude.
  • A commercial lighting and graphics company in Texas advertised for an industrial designer to develop budgets, redesign existing products and work with clients and other employees to create satisfactory products and systems.
  • In Colorado, an outdoor company sought an industrial designer to develop new products, create 3D computer designs and anticipate industry trends.

Standing Out

As an industrial designer, you can stand out by developing a substantial portfolio. An internship is likely to increase the quality and quantity of material you have to include and can be particularly helpful in getting an edge in this field. You can also benefit from gaining business knowledge. By taking courses in business or earning a Master of Business Administration you'll gain an understanding of market trends, business finance and other relevant topics.

Architect

As an architect you'll draw the plans for buildings, bridges and other structures. You'll consult with clients, estimate costs and prepare and modify blueprints. Architects must work with plumbers, landscapers and HVAC professionals, abide by building codes and market themselves to clients. They use building information modeling and CADD software to create drawings. In this career you'll spend most of your time working in an office but may visit building sites during construction.

Requirements

To become an architect you'll need a professional degree, training in the field and a license. You can earn your Bachelor of Architecture by completing a specialized, 5-year professional degree program. Coursework covers structural design, CADD, math, physical sciences and design. You can alternately pursue an undergraduate degree and then earn a Master or Doctor of Architecture. During or following your program you must complete a 3-year period of supervised training and work. Additionally, you must become licensed by passing the Architect Registration Examination. Your state may also require continuing education to remain licensed.

In November 2012, some employers of architects sought the following:

  • In Iowa, an architectural firm sought an employee with strong design skills, people skills and the desire to get involved in the local community. Candidates with 2-8 years of experience were preferred.
  • A New York City architectural firm advertised for a candidate with project management and construction documentation experience, the ability to work on a team and the knowledge to work in both commercial and residential interiors.
  • In North Carolina, a growing architectural firm sought an employee with masonry, project management and steel and wood-framed structure experience to work on commercial projects.

Standing Out

One way to stand out as an architect is to gain a voluntary certification through the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) by meeting licensure requirements and passing an exam. Having a NCARM certification makes it easier to obtain licensure in more than one state. Another way to stand out as an architect is to gain relevant industry knowledge. Architects must abide by building and maintenance codes to ensure the safety of their structures. By becoming familiar with the regulations in your area, you can impress employers and work efficiently.

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