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Become a Structural CAD Technician

Learn about the work responsibilities of a structural CAD technician. Find out what education and skills are needed in addition to job outlook and salary to decide if this is the right career for you.

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Career Definition for a Structural CAD Technician

Structural CAD technicians produce drawings for projects, such as public works systems, residential and commercial buildings, and concrete and steel bridges. Using computer aided drafting and design (CADD) techniques and software, they create complex drawings and 2D and 3D renderings of structural components, including framework, foundations, roofs and retaining walls. They often assist engineers in outlining designs, gathering data, performing graphic imaging, drawing sketches of existing structures and interpreting structural markups. They may also perform administrative duties, produce documentation and progress reports, participate in meetings and perform computations. Structural CAD technicians are sometimes known as AutoCAD drafters and may work in offices, visit construction sites or submit work from home via the Internet. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that 49% of all drafters work in the architectural and engineering sectors.

Education Associate degree is common, bachelor's also available and preferred by some employers
Job Skills Drafting fundamentals, industry specifics, math aptitude, communication
Median Salary (2015)* $50,710 (architectural and civil drafters)
Job Growth (2014-2024)* -3% (architectural and civil drafters)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements

Structural CAD technicians generally have an Associate in Applied Science degree in industrial technology, engineering design, or a related field; however, some employers may prefer a B.S. in drafting technology. Coursework should include instruction in CAD software, such as AutoCAD and MicroStation, 2D and 3D modeling, mechanical drawing, math, and science. The American Drafting and Design Association (ADDA) website offers information about accredited drafting and design programs throughout the country, as well as voluntary certification, which may benefit job seekers.

Skills Needed

Structural CAD technicians must have a solid understanding of drafting fundamentals, with the ability to use the latest drafting software as well as to sketch freehand. They must be analytical and have strong math aptitude combined with artistic ability and creativity. Technicians should be familiar with CADD techniques, software, and principles specific to the industries in which they specialize, such as highway and city design, water and drainage systems, transportation infrastructure, construction, agriculture, or mining. They must have good communication skills, with the ability to work independently, and as part of a team. In addition to expertise with drafting software, they must also be familiar with commonly-used word processing and spreadsheet programs.

Economic Forecast and Career Outlook

The BLS expects job decline for drafters to be about 3% for the 2014-2024 period, and this may be attributed in part to increased outsourcing of jobs overseas. Additionally, as CAD software becomes more user-friendly, a wider variety of basic drafting functions can be performed by untrained personnel. Job prospects should be best for structural CAD technicians with the strongest technical skills. In May 2015, median annual earnings for drafters working in architecture and civil fields, such as structural CAD technology, were $50,710; salaries ranged from less than $33,260 for the lowest-paid ten percent to more than $77,450 for the highest-paid ten percent.

Alternative Careers

Here are some other options for careers in engineering:

Civil Engineering Technician

For those wanting to delve further into the actual creation of structural designs, becoming a civil engineering technician could be the right option. These technicians examine drawings from drafters to verify measurement accuracy. They also make site visits to determine if the design is being properly executed in addition to analyzing building materials and soil, developing cost estimations and compiling project information into written reports. Although a degree is not required to enter the profession, an associate degree in civil engineering technology may be appealing to some employers. According to BLS projections, civil engineering technicians will experience 5% employment growth during the 2014-2024 decade. In 2015, these professionals earned a median wage of $49,260.

Architect

If utilizing CAD software to create building designs for government and private clients sounds intriguing, consider a career in architecture. Architects meet with clients to determine what the design vision should be and use their artistic skills to draw sketches and blueprints. They also choose construction materials, create cost estimates and schedules, prepare construction contracts, oversee construction work pertaining to the design, and make sure clients are satisfied. Aspiring architects must complete three stages before working in the field; earning a 5-year bachelor's or master's degree in architecture, working as an intern for at least 3 years and receiving a passing score on the Architect Registration Exam. Upon completion, an architect can usually obtain a required state license. The BLS predicts job opportunities will increase 7% for architects from 2014-2024, with almost 7,800 new positions opening up during that time. As reported by the BLS in May of 2015, architects received $76,100 in median yearly compensation.

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