CAD Drafters and Design Industry Career Trends

Are CAD drafters on their way out?

The CAD drafter has been a mainstay of the design industry for the last two decades but the growth potential for this career seems limited. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, drafters can only expect a 6 percent (lower than average) job growth rate over the next decade. In addition, the recommended education level for these positions is an Associates Degree, a change from the high school graduate type of position drafting was before.

Where CAD Drafters Came From

We started our career in the AEC industry as a drafter, first on the boards, then later using AutoCAD. Even when we made the shift to CAD, we were still just drafters. The designers gave us redline markups and we went ahead and drew what they'd given us on the computer. Over the years, we figured out that if we understood the design process and were able to do a layout on ourown, without needing an engineer or architect, employers paid a lot more money. Not everyone in this industry made that connection though and there have always been folks who are content to simply draft other people's work into a presentable form. While there's nothing wrong with drafting for a living, the question keeps coming up at senior management levels: Do we even need drafters anymore?

Where CAD Drafters Are Today

It's a valid question. The complexity of modern CAD software, combined with a new generation of junior engineers born and raised in the computer age, has a lot of managers thinking that the most cost-effective option is letting professionals do their own drafting work. Why pay someone to draft in CAD when the design and drafting can be accomplished at once by the engineer/architect? Couple that with the fact that modern parametric modeling tools require a pretty solid understanding of your design industry before you can generate even a minimal design and you can see why management keeps leaning more and more in this direction.

Where CAD Drafters Will Be Tomorrow

The day of the drafter may be over but we don't see licensed professionals ever taking over their duties. The "designer" is the middle ground that will bridge the gap between concept and production. If you want to work in CAD, you'd better be an expert in your particular industry and you'll need to couple that with all the basic drafting and computer skills you can muster up. Computer savvy engineers/architects may be able to produce designs in CAD but they will be slow to do so because so much of their attention is focused on design concepts and regulations instead of drafting, presentation, and production layout.

What It All Means For The CAD Industry

If you want to generate great designs and clean plans in the most cost-effective manner, then train your best drafters! Teach them the ins and outs of your industry; couple them with your best professionals and give your drafters the opportunity to become designers. Once they're comfortable with the concepts, they'll be able to handle the bulk of your layouts at far less than you'll need to pay licensed professionals. The firm saves money, the drafter has upward mobility (and more pay!) and your clients are thrilled because their work gets done quickly and accurately. That's a win across the boards. Drafting is still an art form, whether in CAD or by hand, and it's one that we need to keep alive in order to effectively communicate design ideas.

Take a look at this discussion over on the CADDManager Blog to get an idea of what can be lost/gained by not maintaining good drafting capabilities in your firm.