Technical drawing plays an integral role in many fields, including manufacturing, engineering, architecture and computer modeling. People who render technical drawings are usually known as drafters or drafting technicians, while those who use computer programs are also called CADD (computer-aided design and drafting) operators.
Many drafters and CADD operators enroll in 2-year associate degree programs at community colleges and technical schools where they study computer science, drafting basics, algebra and computer-aided drafting applications. Students could also go on to earn certificates in specialized fields of technical drawing. Courses are commonly available online.
Associate Degree Programs in Drafting (Technical Drawing) Technology
From homes to highways to helicopters, almost everything that we use began as a technical drawing. Many schools offer 2-year degrees in this field; some programs offer an overall approach to technical drawing, while others specialize in certain types of technical drawing, such as engineering, architectural, civil, aeronautical, manufacturing or electronics. Through these programs, students learn a combination of skills that are needed to produce precise technical drawings.
Prerequisites vary, but many schools prefer students with high school courses in advanced mathematics, computer science and science. Some type of training in the graphic arts can also be helpful when applying for a drafting degree program.
Drafting programs focus heavily on computer, math and science classes. Coursework in communications, writing and speech are also necessary because drafters often work closely with engineers and product designers. Common course topics include:
- Computer science
- Fundamentals of drafting
- Computer drafting
- Advanced science
Computer-Aided Design and Drafting (CADD) Associate Degree Programs
Today, many employers are looking for technical drawing applicants with some knowledge in computer-aided drafting and design. Degree programs that specialize in CADD combine basic drafting principles with computer skills and teach students how to apply these skills when using drafting software programs. Many schools prefer applicants with solid experience in computer use and some knowledge in computer science.
Coursework in CADD programs covers drafting and design basics along with a special emphasis in computer-related subjects. Often, the first year focuses on design basics, and the final year of the program concentrates on computer drafting applications and programs. Some courses students may encounter are:
- Computer design
- 3-D modeling
- CAD applications
- Digital layout
- Dimensioning systems
Technical Drawing Certificate Programs
Many technical schools and community colleges offer certificate programs in drafting, CADD or technical drawing. Some of these programs provide an overview of drafting practices and techniques, while others specialize in certain types of technical drawing, such as mechanical, architectural or engineering. Some certificate programs are geared towards students with backgrounds in technical drawing who are looking to update their skills, while others are designed for new students entering the field of technical drawing.
Most technical drawing programs require a high school diploma with coursework in math, physics and graphic art. Programs designed for continuing education students may have additional educational or job-related experience prerequisites. Credits earned in certificate programs are often transferable to other institutions and may be applied towards an associate's degree in drafting.
Popular Career Fields
Today, almost every field of drafting uses some type of computer rendering system; some of the most popular fields for CADD operators are manufacturing and mechanical engineering. Other fields graduates can pursue are:
- Civil engineering
- Aeronautical engineering
- Computer graphics
- Digital design
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (www.bls.gov), job prospects for drafters are expected to decline by three percent between 2014 and 2024. However, job opportunities for certain specialties, such as electrical and electronics drafting, are expected to be in demand.
Salaries for drafters vary according to field and specialization. In 2015, the BLS reported that the median annual income for drafters in civil engineering or architecture was $50,710. Electrical and electronics drafters earned $59,520, and the median income for mechanical drafters was $53,520.
Continuing Education Information
Many CADD operators continue their education in specialized fields, such as MET (mechanical engineering technology) and Auto CAD (engineering design software). They can also transfer their credits to 4-year programs in engineering or other fields that utilize computer-rendered drawings.
Although most 4-year colleges do not offer drafting programs, many will allow students with a 2-year degree to incorporate their credits into an engineering or architecture program. Students with an associate's degree in drafting can also continue their education with a certification program. One of the most recognized forms of drafter certification is from the American Design Drafting Association (www.adda.org), which has exams for professional and apprentice drafters.
To gain a foundation in technical drawing, students can complete an associate's degree program or a certificate program. They will then be able to pursue a career in drafting or seek further education in similar fields, like engineering or architecture.