Career Guide for Drafters

A drafter prepares technical drawings and plans for production of products to building structures. A drafter specializes in one type of drawing such as aeronautical engineer, architecture, civil drafters, or electronics engineering.

In this free career guide, you will learn how to have a successful career as a drafter.

Drafter Summary

  • Opportunities should be best for individuals with at least 2 years of postsecondary training in drafting.
  • Overall employment is projected to grow more slowly than average, but growth will vary by specialty.
  • Demand for various types of drafters depends on the needs of local industry.

Working as a Drafter

Drafters prepare technical drawings and plans, which are used by production and construction workers to build everything from microchips to skyscrapers.

Drafters’ drawings provide visual guidelines and show how to construct a product or structure. Drawings include technical details and specify dimensions, materials, and procedures. Drafters fill in technical details using drawings, rough sketches, specifications, and calculations made by engineers, surveyors, architects, or scientists. For example, many drafters use their knowledge of standardized building techniques to draw in the details of structures. Some use their understanding of engineering and manufacturing theory and standards to draw the parts of a machine; they 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.

Most drafters use Computer Aided Design and Drafting (CADD) systems to prepare drawings. Consequently, some drafters may be referred to as CADD operators. With CADD systems, drafters can create and store drawings electronically so that they can be viewed, printed, or programmed directly into automated manufacturing systems. CADD systems also permit drafters to quickly prepare variations of a design. Although drafters use CADD extensively, they still need knowledge of traditional drafting techniques in order to fully understand and explain concepts.

Drafting work has many specialties; the most common types of drafters are the following:

Aeronautical drafters prepare engineering drawings that detail plans and specifications used in the manufacture of aircraft, missiles, and related parts.

Architectural drafters draw architectural and structural features of buildings for new construction projects. These workers may specialize in a type of building, 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, power plants, 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 components.

Mechanical drafters prepare drawings showing the detail and method of 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.

Work environment. Drafters usually work in comfortable offices. Because they spend long periods in front of computers doing detailed work, drafters may be susceptible to eyestrain, back discomfort, and hand and wrist problems. Most drafters work a standard 40-hour week; only a small number work part time.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Employers prefer applicants who have completed postsecondary school training in drafting, which 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.

Education and training. High school courses in mathematics, science, computer technology, design, computer graphics, and, where available, drafting are useful for people considering a drafting career. Employers prefer applicants who have also completed training after high school at a technical institute, community college, or 4-year college or university. Prospective students should contact prospective employers to ask which schools they prefer and contact schools to ask for information about the kinds of jobs their graduates have, the type and condition of instructional facilities and equipment, and teacher qualifications.

Technical institutes offer intensive technical training, but they provide a less general education than do community colleges. Either certificates or diplomas may be awarded, and programs can vary considerably in length and in the types of courses offered. Many technical institutes offer 2-year associate degree programs.

Community colleges offer programs similar to those in technical institutes but include more classes in drafting theory and also often require general education classes. Courses taken at community colleges are more likely 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 a 4-year college. Most 4-year colleges 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 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.

Training differs somewhat within the drafting specialties, although the basics, such as mathematics, are similar. In an electronics drafting program, for example, students learn how to depict electronic components and circuits in drawings. In architectural drafting, they learn the technical specifications of buildings.

Certification and other qualifications. Mechanical ability and visual aptitude are important for drafters. Prospective drafters should be able to draw well and perform detailed work accurately. 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.

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 knowledge and an understanding of nationally recognized practices. Individuals who wish to become certified must pass the Drafter Certification Test, which is administered periodically at ADDA-authorized sites. Applicants are tested on basic drafting concepts, such as geometric construction, working drawings, and architectural terms and standards.

Advancement. 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; with appropriate college degrees, drafters may go on to become engineering technicians, engineers, or architects.

Employment as a Drafter

Drafters held about 251,900 jobs in 2008. Architectural and civil drafters held 47 percent of these jobs, mechanical drafters held about 31 percent, and electrical and electronics drafters held about 13 percent.

About 52 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 24 percent of jobs were in manufacturing industries such as machinery, fabricated metal products, computer and electronic products, and transportation-equipment manufacturing. Approximately 3 percent of drafters were self-employed in 2008.

Job Outlook

Drafters can expect slower than average employment growth, with the best opportunities expected for those with at least 2 years of postsecondary training.

Employment change. Employment of drafters is expected to grow by 4 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is slower than the average for all occupations. However, growth will vary by specialty.

Architectural and civil drafting is expected to be the fastest growing specialty, increasing by 9 percent, which is about as fast as the average. Increases in overall construction activity stemming from U.S. population growth and the related need to improve the Nation’s infrastructure should spur demand for drafters trained in architectural and civil design.

In contrast to employment of architectural and civil drafters, little or no change in employment is expected of mechanical drafters and of electronic and electrical drafters. Many of these workers are concentrated in slow-growing or declining manufacturing industries that offer few opportunities for growth related to expansion. However, increasingly complex design problems associated with new products and manufacturing processes will increase the demand for mechanical drafters and electronic and electrical drafters employed in engineering and drafting services firms that will be charged with finding solutions to these problems.

Across all specialties, CADD systems that are more powerful and easier to use will allow many tasks to be done by other technical professionals, thus curbing demand for drafters. Job growth also should be slowed as some drafting work, which can be done by sending CADD files over the Internet, is outsourced offshore to countries that pay lower wages.

Job prospects. Opportunities should be best for individuals with at least 2 years of postsecondary training in a drafting program that provides strong technical skills and 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. Most job openings are expected to arise from the need to replace drafters who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force completely.

Employment of drafters remains tied to industries that are sensitive to cyclical changes in the economy, primarily construction and manufacturing. 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.

Demand for particular drafting specialties varies throughout the country because employment usually is contingent on the needs of local industry.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Change,
2008-18
Number Percent
Drafters 17-3010 251,900 262,500 10,700 4
Architectural and civil drafters 17-3011 118,400 129,100 10,800 9
Electrical and electronics drafters 17-3012 33,600 33,900 300 1
Mechanical drafters 17-3013 78,700 77,800 -900 -1
Drafters, all other 17-3019 21,200 21,700 500 2
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Drafters

Drafters’ earnings vary by specialty, location, and level of responsibility. Median annual wages of architectural and civil drafters were $44,490 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $35,290 and $55,740. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,220, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $67,110. Median annual wages for architectural and civil drafters in architectural, engineering, and related services were $44,390.

Median annual wages of mechanical drafters were $46,640 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $36,490 and $59,010. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,390, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $71,340. Median annual wages for mechanical drafters in architectural, engineering, and related services were $47,630.

Median annual wages of electrical and electronics drafters were $51,320 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $40,210 and $65,400. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,050, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $79,790. In architectural, engineering, and related services, median annual wages for electrical and electronics drafters were $47,910.

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