CAD career profile
February 12, 2012 11:23 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have a technical degree in computer aided drafting & design? Can you tell me a bit about job prospects, salary range, career options, and maybe just generally what the day in a life of a draftsman looks like? I'm considering taking a drafting course to see if an associates degree is something I'd want to pursue. Thanks in advance!
posted by pilibeen to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a CAD designer but I know several in the USA and they've been complaining for about 8 years that all the work is being outsourced overseas.
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:02 PM on February 12, 2012

My ex does this for handheld consumer and medical devices with a BS in mechanical egineering. His company continues to do well but they are facing increasing pressure from their larger clients (the ones in a position to outsource) to contain labor costs.
posted by headnsouth at 12:27 PM on February 12, 2012

My husband has an associates in civil engineering and has done fabulously well for himself. He has worked in consumer electronics, motion pictures and is now working with a very well known major food and beverage company. He does mechanical engineering work, using ProE, but it all started in a high school vocational drafting class. He pulls in the low six figures, but he has 20+ years of experience.

HOWEVER... he has hit the top of his salary range and it is not likely he will ever be considered for any type of management role, which is what he wants to do, without a bachelors degree. So, he has gone back to school to get this. It will take him several years, going part time, to achieve this and he'll probably be done when he's 45 or so.

If you are considering CAD as a career, I would encourage you to do civil, mechanical, electrical or even industrial engineering instead. And, I would encourage you to get a bachelors degree isntead of an associates degree. Most engineers I know of do not need a masters in engineering to get a good job--a BS is adequate. (In fact, most of them go on to get an MBA instead of a masters degree in engineering.)

I have seen lots of opportunities in many different sectors (consumer products, medical devices, construction) as well as different roles (change management, patent work, the actual engineering work). If you want to just do drawings all day, you can--but it goes far beyond that.

And if you see a program that focuses on teaching AutoCAD, run far, far away. ProE is the software of choice from what I have seen.
posted by FergieBelle at 1:51 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

ProE is the software of choice from what I have seen.

Yep the aforementioned ex has always used ProE exclusively as well.
posted by headnsouth at 1:56 PM on February 12, 2012

My civil engineer husband uses AutoCAD exclusively (maybe there are regional or industry preferences?). But I do second the advice about going for an engineering degree rather than a CAD degree. My husband started out with several CAD dudes working for him, but due to downsizing, now he has to do it all himself.

If you're not interested in the engineering so much, you might consider combing a CAD background with land surveying to increase your marketability.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:50 PM on February 12, 2012

I am a designer who uses CAD. I won't comment on the academic side of things, except to say that not all drafters or people interested in drafting necessarily have an interest in becoming an engineer!

Anyway, that said, I think that salary range and job availability depend highly upon what field you end up in. A draftsperson could do anything from mechanical, to architectural, to structural, etc. Some work in 2D, some work in 3D, some for engineering consulting firms, some for smaller shops, etc. There's probably hundreds of different things you could end up falling into with good drafting skills.

I can't make general statements regarding salary or job availability, but I can tell you that two of my family members, who are also draftsmen (draftspeople?) are currently pulling in six figure incomes (one of them is making more money than his boss, who is a mechanical engineer). Myself personally, my salary is on par with other people my age (late 20's) who have engineering degrees. Again, I wouldn't call this the norm in terms of salary (I'd say that this is on the generous side of things), but maybe it will give you an idea of what's out there. You can check out one of those websites like to see what rates might be for whatever area of drafting you suspect you will fall into.

As for the day to day, I come into work, turn on my computer and draw all day long. It's really quite fun :D I love what I do, and am stimulated and fulfilled. The only drawback, I suppose -- and this is a nod in the direction to everyone who suggests that you really should get an engineering degree instead -- is that the person signing off on your work and ultimately has the last say is the engineer. Some people have problems with this, and of course others will frame it negatively by saying that you'll always be "the engineer's bitch", but I personally have no issue with it because to me, engineers and drafters have a different set of responsibilities, and I love what I do, so does it really matter who has the final say?

Oh, and, to add to the AutoCAD vs. ProE... it again depends on what you'll be doing and who your client is. I work in oil & gas and this industry tends to use plant design software that works with AutoCAD or MicroStation platforms (AutoPLANT, Plant Space, PDS, PDMS, etc). If you end up drafting in the automobile industry or maybe in aerospace, for example, something with a lot of mechanical pieces, you will more than likely use a program like ProE/SolidWorks/CATIA... etc.
posted by CristinaT at 11:41 AM on February 13, 2012

Whatever kind of drafting you want to do, it would serve you well to aim beyond drafting and instead at the field that the drafting is part of (engineering, product design, architecture, etc.). Drafting by itself doesn't take long to learn, and is relatively easy to outsource overseas or, alternately, assign to people who also understand what they're drawing and not just how to draw. For example, architectural drafting today is done by designers or design interns; the architectural drafter as a separate career role is basically extinct. Other fields may still have jobs for people who are just very proficient technical drafters, but I wouldn't bet my career on it. (CristinaT, I would be very curious to hear more about your family members who make 6 figures to draw all day -- I bet they have far more specialized knowledge than suggested by the title "draftsperson".)
posted by Chris4d at 1:10 PM on February 13, 2012

@Chris4d They (or should I say, we) are process piping designers. I agree with what you said about aiming beyond drafting, a point I wish I had made myself! I was just going on my personal experience (and from observing several people I work with) which was learning first how to draft, then kind of falling into a specific field and then learning with experience and slowly moving from drafts person to designer. So to the OP, yes, definitely aim to learn skills and attain knowledge that you can apply to the field you hope to work in.
posted by CristinaT at 8:04 PM on February 13, 2012

I think that getting a degree in CAD/technial drafting is a bad idea. I use CAD daily and do all my own work as does everyone else I know. I have only known of a very few dedicated draftsmen, always in very large (and perpetually slightly out of date firms). I think the idea that there are people who are just draftsmen is generally pretty out of date. The designer or intern/junior designer does all the CAD work now. Anything else gets sent overseas. Not to mention that many CAD applications today are related to the construction industry which is still not doing well. Obviously there are people NOW who are employed in good positions just doing CAD work, but I really think those jobs are on their way out, quickly.

Not to mention CAD is just not that difficult, you don't need a whole degree in it to use it competently. If you really want to do this kind of technical drawing work, I would look into learning CAD, Revit and learning how to render really well. An arsenal of production skills like that would be much more valuable to a variety of clients. Or getting a degree in the actual discipline you would like to draft for.
posted by annie o at 7:53 PM on February 14, 2012

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