If you combine the drawing ability of a fine artist with the technical precision of an engineer, you understand the career of a drafter. She takes the dreams of engineers and architects, and turns them into plans that builders and manufacturers can follow. With enough experience and training, drafters can advance to become designers of the products they draw.
To learn drafting skills, you'll need some post-secondary education, such as an associate degree from a community college or technical school. For more complex work, such as architecture, you may need a bachelor’s degree. An example of a course of study comes from Guilford Technical Community College in North Carolina. The associate degree in drafting and design starts with prerequisites in reading, writing and math. It then continues with computer-aided design and drafting, or CADD, technical drafting, machine processes, physics, engineering materials and electricity.
Drafters use computer-aided design software to prepare plans and technical drawings. They may add details to initial concepts from engineers and architects, prepare many versions of the same design based on technical reviews, and specify the materials, dimensions and procedures for carrying out their blueprints. Many applications allow drafters to switch instantly between two-dimensional and three-dimensional versions of a rendering. This allows supervisory professionals and production staff to view designs from multiple angles. Other software systems that drafters use include building information modeling, which shows how product pieces work together, and product data management, which tracks information.
Because drafters must be intimately familiar with the products they detail, they must understand the technical structure and all features. Experience gradually gives these professionals the ability to work independently on creating designs, rather than relying on those of others. Both drafters and designers often specialize in particular products. For example, aeronautical drafters focus on aircraft and flying devices, electrical drafters prepare wiring diagrams for electrical equipment, architectural drafters help create buildings and structures, and mechanical drafters concentrate on machines and mechanical devices.
Jobs for drafters are expected to grow by 6 percent through 2020, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic, which is less than half of the average for all other occupations. Mechanical drafters will show the greatest gains at 11 percent, while architectural and civil drafters will increase by only 3 percent. Engineering firms are expected to show the best opportunities because many companies are outsourcing their drafting needs. But demand is being depressed because many jobs are located in manufacturing industries, which are slow-growing or declining.
Aurelio Locsin has been writing professionally since 1982. He published his first book in 1996 and is a frequent contributor to many online publications, specializing in consumer, business and technical topics. Locsin holds a Bachelor of Arts in scientific and technical communications from the University of Washington.