Becoming a Structural Designer: Salary & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a structural designer? Get real job duties, career outlook and salary information to see if becoming a structural designer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Structural Designer

Structural designers often work under the supervision of engineers and architects to assist in the drafting and design of buildings and other load-bearing structures. Read about the pros and cons of this career to find out if it is the right job for you.

Pros of a Being a Structural Designer
Limited education requirements (68% had bachelor's degree in 2011)**
No state licensure or certification requirements*
Ability to use creativity and artistic design
Can work for several industries (from construction to transportation equipment)*

Cons of Being a Structural Designer
Little to no job growth for drafters (one percent over 2012-2022 decade)*
Increased obsolescence due to CADD technology improvements*
Modest income potential ($50,000 median salary for architectural and civil drafters in 2014)*
Job may involve overtime*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*Net OnLine

Career Information for Structural Designers

Job Duties

Structural designers often work for engineering, design or manufacturing firms, performing drafting duties for professionals such as architects and structural engineers. As a structural designer, you will be responsible for creating construction drawings based upon the needs of a specific project. This will involve compiling data, determining design information, engineering calculations, coordinating with engineers and other designers and checking calculations.

You will primarily need to be trained in the use of software such as AutoCADD. In addition to CADD, you may utilize calculators, compasses, protractors, scales and scanners to gather and calculate data. You might also assist in making preliminary material and cost estimations for engineers and architects.

Career Outlook and Salary Info

The use of computer aided design has increased the efficiency and complexity of structural design. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects one percent job growth for drafters over the 2012-2022 decade. Although continued commercial development and increased infrastructure should continue to produce a demand for drafting professionals, improvements to CAD software may allow other professionals to complete drafting services, limiting growth for entry-level and experienced drafters. Based on BLS 2014 data, architectural and civil drafters earned a median income of about $50,000 in 2014, well below the average salaries for professional architects and engineers.

What Are the Requirements?

Educational Requirements for Structural Designers

Generally, an associate's degree or technical certificate in CADD should be enough to earn an entry-level position as a structural designer or drafter. Many programs are transferable to bachelor's and advanced degree programs in architecture or engineering. Those professionals who are interested in advancing in the field should consider earning at least a bachelor's degree.

According to O*Net OnLine, 68% of architectural drafters surveyed earned a bachelor's degree and 20% earned a master's degree. Many drafting professionals gain industry experience as drafters while completing the training and education necessary to become certified architects or engineers.

Courses in Structural Design

Along with AutoCAD or CADD technology, your program coursework may include other topics relevant to the industries you may be entering. You may take courses on architectural design analysis and structural systems, providing you with a background in engineering technology. You may also find courses covering residential and commercial building codes, preparing you for work in the construction industry.

Real Job Listings for Structural Designers

Many firms hiring structural designers favor professional experience over education. Training and experience in AutoCAD is often the main requirement. Here are a few examples of real job listings for structural design professionals found in April 2012:

  • A Midwestern engineering company seeks a civil/structural design specialist. Eight years of experience with chemical or refinery projects required. AutoCAD experience (2009 or beyond) is also required.
  • Southeastern engineering and construction firm seeks a structural designer. Ten years of experience plus a minimum of an associate's degree in CAD or engineering technology required. Candidates should be able to create drawings for concrete and steel materials and should have a solid grasp of work/information flow.
  • Midwestern engineering firm seeks a professional for structural design contract position. Bachelor's degree plus experience with aircraft design required.

How to Get Ahead in Your Structural Design Career

Gain Professional Certification

While states do not require licensure for professional drafters and most employers do not mandate professional certification, you may consider gaining certification with the American Design Drafting Association (ADDA). Professional certification with ADDA includes the Certified Apprentice Drafter and Certified Drafter credentials. There are no eligibility requirements for ADDA certifications and anyone is allowed to complete the examination. In order to prepare applicants, the ADDA provides curriculum standards for participating postsecondary programs.

Continued Education, Training and Advanced Degrees

Academic programs in architectural design may prepare you to continue your education toward a bachelor's or advanced degree in architecture or engineering. For engineers, college programs are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). All states require licensure for professional engineers, which often entails completing a degree from an ABET-approved program, completing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination, gaining supervised work experience and then completing the Professional Engineer (P.E.) examination. Examinations are offered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying.

For aspiring architects, The National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB) approves postsecondary programs. Professional architects are required to obtain state licensure and generally complete a 5-year bachelor's degree or master's degree in architecture. According to the BLS, in 2009, about one-third of all professional architects also held professional certification through the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

Graduate Coursework in Structural Design

As a graduate student pursuing a degree in architecture or structural engineering, you may take courses on bridge design or probabilistic design analysis. In addition to advanced drafting expertise, you may also take courses covering tangible elements of structural design, including building elements such as concrete, steel, wood and masonry.

Alternative Careers in Drafting and Design

Commercial and Industrial Designer

In commercial and industrial design, you will be able to utilize your drafting skills to produce product designs and prototypes for manufacturing. Many careers in commercial and industrial design require a bachelor's degree. Programs in industrial design, engineering or architecture may prepare you for the challenges of these careers. Based on BLS projections, commercial and industrial designers should see a 10% increase in employment during 2010-2020. Employment growth may be slowed somewhat as many manufacturing firms continue to downsize or outsource design services to overseas firms. The BLS 2010 data reports a median income of about $58,000 for these professionals.

Interior Designer

Interior designers often work in coordination with architects and builders to efficiently use residential or commercial interior space. An increasing number of states are beginning to recognize the function and importance of regulating interior design work through mandatory state licensure. Postsecondary programs leading to either an associate's or bachelor's degree may prepare you for licensure through certification with the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ). According to the BLS, careers in interior design are expected to see above average growth in the coming years, with professionals earning a median annual salary of $46,000 in 2010.

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