Sep 3 2019
If you have an eye for detail, you like working in design software, and you don’t want to pursue a four-year degree, a career in computer-aided design (CAD) could be a great move for you. Not only can you avoid paying for a four-year college education, but you can start earning a good salary pretty quickly.
In this article, we explain how to start your CAD career, what the average salaries are for common CAD jobs, and much more. We’ve also created an infographic that displays exactly what you need to do starting your freshman year in high school to land a CAD job without a four-year degree.
Using computer-aided design software, CAD drafters convert the designs created by engineers and architects into technical drawings. These technical drawings are then used to build structures and manufacture products. The drawings are very detailed — specifying dimensions, codes, materials, and production methods.
In many cases, CAD drafters choose one of the following specialties:
A CAD career as a drafter typically requires working full-time in an office. You might be required to go onsite for a specific job, but most of your time is spent at a computer producing designs, adjusting designs, responding to feedback, and working with engineers and architects.
There are two general CAD career paths you can follow to become a drafter. To get started, you should finish high school or get your GED, and it helps if you have taken higher level math, science, and engineering classes. Many CAD drafters then opt to get their two-year associate’s degree at a technical or community college, with course work including math, science, drawing, and design. During this time, it’s also beneficial to purse a software certification or a professional credential, like those provided by the American Design Drafting Association (ADDA).
Some drafters choose a CAD career pathway that doesn’t involve achieving an associate’s degree. If you’ve gained CAD experience in high school — and participated in extracurriculars like FIRST Robotics — you might qualify for an apprenticeship with an organization. Most common in the manufacturing industry, apprenticeships will teach you what you need to know to be a successful CAD drafter at that company.
The terms “CAD technician” and “CAD drafter” are two names for essentially the same role, but CAD designers do differ from drafters/technicians. When you’re figuring out what CAD career you’d like to pursue, an easy way to look at it is to think of CAD drafters as generalists and CAD designers as specialists.
CAD drafters produce schemas and technical drawings that serve as visual guidelines to detail the correct dimensions, procedures, and materials for making an object. They leverage CAD software and are responsible for making corrections to drawings that have been reviewed by the design professional. CAD drafters might also print and collate all drawings.
CAD designers are more specifically skilled drafters. They might have extensive knowledge in finite subjects like mechanical systems, circuit layout, electrical lighting, or architecture. Sometimes referred to as a “CAD coordinator,” CAD designers will have knowledge of the codes and regulations that their designs must comply with. They often coordinate drawing sets to make sure all the information is correct.
A traditional CAD career path often requires CAD drafting experience prior to becoming a CAD designer. But if you have the right credentials and education, you can strive for a CAD designer position straightaway.
If you’re interested in a CAD career, here’s a quick breakdown of the average annual salary for each high-level CAD career (Scan2CAD):
These average salaries are heavily impacted by a few key factors (Scan2CAD):
CAD careers are incredibly rewarding and challenging. You have the opportunity to work with a team of dedicated professionals and be part of creating something great. Plus, CAD careers are here to stay — every engineering and architecture team must have skilled CAD professionals and drafters. We’ve provided a high-level view of the job outlook for a few different CAD careers (Scan2CAD) that don’t require a four-year degree.
While some CAD industries are expected to eliminate a few drafting positions over the next several years because of the increased efficiency of software programs, the industry isn’t going anywhere! There are still thousands of jobs available each year and plenty of room to continue building your skills and advancing your career.
A CAD career can be incredibly rewarding — and you can start earning a great salary without getting a four-year degree. If you’re interested in a CAD career, your preparation work really starts in high school. From taking challenging math, science, and engineering classes to getting involved in design-related extracurriculars, there are plenty of ways to boost your CAD resume early. Check out our infographic that shows you can launch a successful CAD career without needing to get a four-year degree.
About the Author
SolidProfessor academic content marketer and amateur hula hooper.