The type and quality of postsecondary drafting programs vary
considerably; prospective students should be careful in selecting
Employment is projected to grow more slowly than average.
Opportunities should be best for individuals with at least
2 years of postsecondary training in drafting and considerable
skill and experience using computer-aided design and drafting
Demand for drafters varies by specialty and depends on the
needs of local industry, particularly architectural and engineering
services and manufacturing.
Nature of the Work
Drafters prepare technical drawings and plans used by production
and construction workers to build everything from manufactured
products such as toys, toasters, industrial machinery, and spacecraft
to structures such as houses, office buildings, and oil and gas
pipelines. Drafters’ drawings provide visual guidelines; show
the technical details of the products and structures; and specify
dimensions, materials, and procedures. Drafters fill in technical
details using drawings, rough sketches, specifications, codes,
and calculations previously made by engineers, surveyors, architects,
or scientists. For example, drafters use their knowledge of standardized
building techniques to draw in the details of a structure. Some
use their knowledge of engineering and manufacturing theory and
standards to draw the parts of a machine to determine design elements,
such as the numbers and kinds of fasteners needed to assemble
the machine. Drafters use technical handbooks, tables, calculators,
and computers to complete their work.
Traditionally, drafters sat at drawing boards and used pencils,
pens, compasses, protractors, triangles, and other drafting devices
to prepare a drawing manually. Most drafters now use CADD systems
to prepare drawings. Consequently, some drafters may be referred
to as CADD operators. CADD systems employ computers to
create and store drawings electronically that can then be viewed,
printed, or programmed directly into automated manufacturing systems.
These systems also permit drafters to quickly prepare variations
of a design. Although drafters use CADD extensively, it is only
a tool. Persons who produce technical drawings with CADD still
function as drafters and need the knowledge of traditional drafters,
in addition to CADD skills. Despite the nearly universal use of
CADD systems, manual drafting and sketching still are used in
Drafting work has many specialties, and titles may denote a particular
discipline of design or drafting.
Aeronautical drafters prepare engineering drawings detailing
plans and specifications used in the manufacture of aircraft,
missiles, and related parts.
Architectural drafters draw architectural and structural
features of buildings and other structures. These workers may
specialize in a type of structure, such as residential or commercial,
or in a kind of material used, such as reinforced concrete, masonry,
steel, or timber.
Civil drafters prepare drawings and topographical and
relief maps used in major construction or civil engineering projects,
such as highways, bridges, pipelines, flood control projects,
and water and sewage systems.
Electrical drafters prepare wiring and layout diagrams
used by workers who erect, install, and repair electrical equipment
and wiring in communication centers, powerplants, electrical distribution
systems, and buildings.
Electronics drafters draw wiring diagrams, circuit board
assembly diagrams, schematics, and layout drawings used in the
manufacture, installation, and repair of electronic devices and
Mechanical drafters prepare drawings showing the detail
and assembly of a wide variety of machinery and mechanical devices,
indicating dimensions, fastening methods, and other requirements.
Process piping or pipeline drafters prepare drawings
used in the layout, construction, and operation of oil and gas
fields, refineries, chemical plants, and process piping systems.
Most drafters work a standard 40-hour week; only a small number
work part time. Drafters usually work in comfortable offices furnished
to accommodate their tasks. They may sit at adjustable drawing
boards or drafting tables when doing manual drawings, although
most drafters work at computer terminals much of the time. Because
they spend long periods in front of computer terminals doing detailed
work, drafters may be susceptible to eyestrain, back discomfort,
and hand and wrist problems.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Employers prefer applicants who have completed postsecondary
school training in drafting, training that is offered by technical
institutes, community colleges, and some 4-year colleges and universities.
Employers are most interested in applicants with well-developed
drafting and mechanical drawing skills; knowledge of drafting
standards, mathematics, science, and engineering technology; and
a solid background in CADD techniques. In addition, communication
and problem-solving skills are important.
Training and coursework differ somewhat within the drafting specialties.
The initial training for each specialty is similar. All incorporate
math and communication skills, for example, but coursework relating
to the specialty varies. In an electronics drafting program, for
example, students learn how to depict electronic components and
circuits in drawings.
Many types of publicly and privately operated schools provide
some form of training in drafting. Because the kind and quality
of programs vary considerably, prospective students should be
careful in selecting a program. They should contact prospective
employers regarding their preferences and ask schools to provide
information about the kinds of jobs that are obtained by the school’s
graduates, the types and conditions of the instructional facilities
and equipment, and the faculty’s qualifications.
Technical institutes offer intensive technical training, but
less general education than do junior and community colleges.
Certificates or diplomas based on the completion of a certain
number of course hours may be awarded. Many technical institutes
offer 2-year associate degree programs, which are similar to,
or part of, the programs offered by community colleges or State
university systems. Their programs vary considerably in both length
and type of courses offered. Some area vocational-technical schools
are postsecondary public institutions that serve local students
and emphasize the type of training preferred by local employers.
Many offer introductory drafting instruction. Most require a high
school diploma or its equivalent for admission. Other technical
institutes are run by private, often for-profit, organizations
sometimes called proprietary schools.
Community colleges offer curricula similar to those in technical
institutes but include more courses on theory and liberal arts.
Often, there is little or no difference between technical institute
and community college programs. However, courses taken at community
colleges are more likely than those given at technical institutes
to be accepted for credit at 4-year colleges. After completing
a 2-year associate degree program, graduates may obtain jobs as
drafters or continue their education in a related field at 4-year
colleges. Most 4-year colleges usually do not offer training in
drafting, but college courses in engineering, architecture, and
mathematics are useful for obtaining a job as a drafter.
Technical training obtained in the Armed Forces also can be applied
in civilian drafting jobs. Some additional training may be necessary,
depending on the technical area or military specialty.
The American Design Drafting Association (ADDA) has established
a certification program for drafters. Although employers usually
do not require drafters to be certified, certification demonstrates
an understanding of nationally recognized practices and standards
of knowledge. Individuals who wish to become certified must pass
the Drafter Certification Test, which is administered periodically
at ADDA-authorized sites. Applicants are tested on their knowledge
and understanding of basic drafting concepts, such as geometric
construction, working drawings, and architectural terms and standards.
Individuals planning careers in drafting should take courses
in mathematics, science, computer technology, design, and computer
graphics, as well as any high school drafting courses available.
Mechanical ability and visual aptitude are important. Prospective
drafters should be able to draw well and perform detailed work
accurately and neatly. Artistic ability is helpful in some specialized
fields, as is knowledge of manufacturing and construction methods.
In addition, prospective drafters should have good interpersonal
skills because they work closely with engineers, surveyors, architects,
and other professionals and, sometimes, with customers.
Entry-level or junior drafters usually do routine work under
close supervision. After gaining experience, they may become intermediate
drafters and progress to more difficult work with less supervision.
At the intermediate level, they may need to exercise more judgment
and perform calculations when preparing and modifying drawings.
Drafters may eventually advance to senior drafter, designer, or
supervisor. Many employers pay for continuing education, and,
with appropriate college degrees, drafters may go on to become
engineering technicians, engineers, or architects.
Drafters held about 254,000 jobs in 2004. Architectural and civil
drafters held 43 percent of all jobs for drafters, mechanical
drafters held about 32 percent of all jobs, and about 15percent
of jobs were held by electrical and electronics drafters.
About 44 percent of all jobs for drafters were in architectural,
engineering, and related services firms that design construction
projects or do other engineering work on a contract basis for
other industries. Another 27 percent of jobs were in manufacturing
industries such as machinery manufacturing, including metalworking
and other general machinery; fabricated metal products manufacturing,
including architectural and structural metals; computer and electronic
products manufacturing, including navigational, measuring, electromedical,
and control instruments; and transportation equipment manufacturing,
including aerospace products and parts manufacturing, as well
as ship and boat building. Most of the rest were employed in construction,
government, wholesale trade, utilities, and employment services.
Approximately 6 percent were self-employed in 2004.
Employment of drafters is expected to grow more slowly than the
average for all occupations through 2014. Industrial growth and
increasingly complex design problems associated with new products
and manufacturing processes will increase the demand for drafting
services. Further, drafters are beginning to break out of the
traditional drafting role and do work traditionally performed
by engineers and architects, thus also increasing demand for drafters.
However, drafters tend to be concentrated in slowly growing or
declining manufacturing industries. CADD systems that are more
powerful and easier to use also should limit demand for lesser
skilled drafters as simple tasks are increasingly done quickly
and easily by other drafters or other technical professionals,
resulting in slower-than-average overall employment growth. Because
some drafting work can be done in other locations using the Internet
to send CADD files internationally, the offshoring of some drafting
jobs also should dampen growth. Most job openings are expected
to arise from the need to replace drafters who transfer to other
occupations, leave the labor force, or retire.
Opportunities should be best for individuals with at least 2
years of postsecondary training in a drafting program that provides
strong technical skills, as well as considerable experience with
CADD systems. CADD has increased the complexity of drafting applications
while enhancing the productivity of drafters. It also has enhanced
the nature of drafting by creating more possibilities for design
and drafting. As technology continues to advance, employers will
look for drafters with a strong background in fundamental drafting
principles, a high level of technical sophistication, and the
ability to apply their knowledge to a broader range of responsibilities.
While growth is expected to be greatest for mechanical, architectural,
and civil drafters, demand for particular drafting specialties
varies throughout the country because employment usually is contingent
on the needs of local industry. Employment of drafters remains
highly concentrated in industries that are sensitive to cyclical
changes in the economy, primarily manufacturing industries. During
recessions, drafters may be laid off. However, a growing number
of drafters should continue to find employment on a temporary
or contract basis as more companies turn to the employment services
industry to meet their changing needs.
Drafters’ earnings vary by specialty, location, and level of
responsibility. Median annual earnings of architectural and civil
drafters were $39,190 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned
between $31,460 and $47,800. The lowest 10 percent earned less
than $25,670, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $57,670.
Median annual earnings for architectural and civil drafters in
architectural, engineering, and related services were $38,760.
Median annual earnings of mechanical drafters were $43,000 in
May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $34,090 and $54,240.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,490, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $67,650. Median annual earnings for
mechanical drafters in architectural, engineering, and related
services were $44,560.
Median annual earnings of electrical and electronics drafters
were $43,180 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between
$33,920 and $56,110. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,600,
and the highest 10 percent earned more than $72,050. In architectural,
engineering, and related services, median annual earnings for
electrical and electronics drafters were $42,200.
Other workers who prepare or analyze detailed drawings and make
precise calculations and measurements include architects, except
landscape and naval; landscape architects; commercial and industrial
designers; engineers; engineering technicians; science technicians;
and surveyors, cartographers, photogrammetrists, and surveying
Sources of Additional Information
Information on schools offering programs in drafting and related
fields is available from:
Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology,
2101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 302, Arlington, VA 22201. Internet:
Information about certification is available from:
American Design Drafting Association, 105 E. Main St., Newbern,
TN 38059. Internet: http://www.adda.org/
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics,
U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook,