Drafters use software to convert the designs of engineers and architects into technical drawings and plans. Workers in production and construction use these plans to build everything from microchips to skyscrapers. Like other workers who primarily use computers to do their work, drafters usually work indoors and full time, although overtime is not uncommon.
Drafters typically do the following:
Many drafters are referred to as CADD operators. With CADD systems, drafters create and store drawings electronically so that they can be viewed, printed, or programmed directly into automated manufacturing systems. New software systems, such as building information modeling (BIM) and product data management (PDM), are coming into use. Through three-dimensional rendering, BIM software allows designers and engineers to see how elements in their projects work together. PDM software helps users track and control data, such as technical specifications, related to projects. Just as BIM is changing the work of architectural drafters as well as engineers and designers, PDM is changing the work of mechanical drafters. These software systems allow drafting and design work to be done at the same time as the work done by other professionals involved in the project.
Employers prefer applicants who have completed training in drafting, typically an associate’s degree from a technical institute or community college. Drafters who specialize in architecture may need a higher degree, such as a bachelor’s degree.
Training differs somewhat within the drafting specialties, but the basics, such as mathematics, are similar. To prepare for this training, high school courses in mathematics, science, computer technology, design, computer graphics, and, where available, drafting, are useful.
Technical institutes offer focused technical training in topics such as design fundamentals, sketching, and CADD software. They award certificates or diplomas, and programs vary considerably in length and in the types of courses offered. Many technical institutes also offer associate’s degree programs.
Community colleges offer programs similar to those in technical institutes but typically include more classes in drafting theory and often require general education classes. Courses taken at community colleges are more likely to be accepted for credit at colleges or universities.
After completing an associate’s degree program, graduates may get jobs as drafters or continue their education in a related field at a four-year university. Most four-year programs do not offer training in drafting, but they do offer classes in engineering, architecture, and mathematics that are useful for obtaining a job as a drafter.
Technical training in the military also can be applied in civilian drafting jobs. Some additional training may be necessary, depending on the technical area or military specialty.
Drafters work in engineering and drafting service firms, architectural and landscape architectural firms, and various manufacturing industries. The industries employing the largest numbers of drafters in 2010 were as follows: