Drafters prepare technical drawings and plans, which are used by production and construction workers to build everything from microchips to skyscrapers.
Drafters' drawings provide visual guidelines and show how to construct a product or structure. Drawings include technical details and specify dimensions, materials, and procedures. Drafters fill in technical details using drawings, rough sketches, specifications, and calculations made by engineers, surveyors, architects, or scientists. For example, many drafters use their knowledge of standardized building techniques to draw in the details of structures. Some use their understanding of engineering and manufacturing theory and standards to draw the parts of a machine; they determine design elements, such as the numbers and kinds of fasteners needed to assemble the machine. Drafters use technical handbooks, tables, calculators, and computers to complete their work.
Most drafters use Computer Aided Design and Drafting (CADD) systems to prepare drawings. Consequently, some drafters may be referred to as CADD operators. With CADD systems, drafters can create and store drawings electronically so that they can be viewed, printed, or programmed directly into automated manufacturing systems. CADD systems also permit drafters to quickly prepare variations of a design. Although drafters use CADD extensively, they still need knowledge of traditional drafting techniques in order to fully understand and explain concepts.
Drafting work has many specialties; the most common types of drafters are the following:
Aeronautical drafters prepare engineering drawings that detail plans and specifications used in the manufacture of aircraft, missiles, and related parts.
Architectural drafters draw architectural and structural features of buildings for new construction projects. These workers may specialize in a type of building, such as residential or commercial, or in a kind of material used, such as reinforced concrete, masonry, steel, or timber.
Civil drafters prepare drawings and topographical and relief maps used in major construction or civil engineering projects, such as highways, bridges, pipelines, flood-control projects, and water and sewage systems.
Electrical drafters prepare wiring and layout diagrams used by workers who erect, install, and repair electrical equipment and wiring in communication centers, power plants, electrical distribution systems, and buildings.
Electronics drafters draw wiring diagrams, circuit board assembly diagrams, schematics, and layout drawings used in the manufacture, installation, and repair of electronic devices and components.
Mechanical drafters prepare drawings showing the detail and method of assembly of a wide variety of machinery and mechanical devices, indicating dimensions, fastening methods, and other requirements.
Process piping or pipeline drafters prepare drawings used in the layout, construction, and operation of oil and gas fields, refineries, chemical plants, and process piping systems.
Drafters held about 191,800 jobs in 2020. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up drafters was distributed as follows:
- Architectural and civil drafters 99,900
- Mechanical drafters 53,600
- Electrical and electronics drafters 24,000
- Drafters, all other 14,400
The largest employers of drafters were as follows:
- Architectural, engineering, and related services - 51%
- Manufacturing - 22%
- Construction - 10%
- Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services - 3%
Although drafters spend much of their time working on computers in an office, some may visit jobsites to collaborate with architects and engineers.
Most drafters work full time. Some work more than 40 hours a week.
Education & Training Required
High school courses in mathematics, science, computer technology, design, computer graphics, and, where available, drafting are useful for people considering a drafting career. Employers prefer applicants who have also completed training after high school at a technical institute, community college, or 4-year college or university. Prospective students should contact prospective employers to ask which schools they prefer and contact schools to ask for information about the kinds of jobs their graduates have, the type and condition of instructional facilities and equipment, and teacher qualifications.
Technical institutes offer intensive technical training, but they provide a less general education than do community colleges. Either certificates or diplomas may be awarded, and programs can vary considerably in length and in the types of courses offered. Many technical institutes offer 2-year associate degree programs.
Community colleges offer programs similar to those in technical institutes but include more classes in drafting theory and also often require general education classes. Courses taken at community colleges are more likely to be accepted for credit at 4-year colleges. After completing a 2-year associate degree program, graduates may obtain jobs as drafters or continue their education in a related field at a 4-year college. Most 4-year colleges do not offer training in drafting, but they do offer classes in engineering, architecture, and mathematics that are useful for obtaining a job as a drafter.
Technical training obtained in the Armed Forces also can be applied in civilian drafting jobs. Some additional training may be necessary, depending on the technical area or military specialty.
Training differs somewhat within the drafting specialties, although the basics, such as mathematics, are similar. In an electronics drafting program, for example, students learn how to depict electronic components and circuits in drawings. In architectural drafting, they learn the technical specifications of buildings.
Other Skills Required
Mechanical ability and visual aptitude are important for drafters. Prospective drafters should be able to draw well and perform detailed work accurately. Artistic ability is helpful in some specialized fields, as is knowledge of manufacturing and construction methods. In addition, prospective drafters should have good interpersonal skills because they work closely with engineers, surveyors, architects, and other professionals and, sometimes, with customers.
The American Design Drafting Association (ADDA) has established a certification program for drafters. Although employers usually do not require drafters to be certified, certification demonstrates knowledge and an understanding of nationally recognized practices. Individuals who wish to become certified must pass the Drafter Certification Test, which is administered periodically at ADDA-authorized sites. Applicants are tested on basic drafting concepts, such as geometric construction, working drawings, and architectural terms and standards.
How to Advance
Entry-level or junior drafters usually do routine work under close supervision. After gaining experience, they may become intermediate drafters and progress to more difficult work with less supervision. At the intermediate level, they may need to exercise more judgment and perform calculations when preparing and modifying drawings. Drafters may eventually advance to senior drafter, designer, or supervisor. Many employers pay for continuing education; with appropriate college degrees, drafters may go on to become engineering technicians, engineers, or architects.
Overall employment of drafters is projected to decline 2 percent from 2020 to 2030.
Despite declining employment, about 17,500 openings for drafters are projected each year, on average, over the decade. All of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
Expected employment decreases in manufacturing and engineering services will more than offset the small increases in construction. These decreases will be driven by the use of computer-aided design (CAD) and building information modeling (BIM) technologies, which allow engineers and architects to perform many tasks that used to be done by drafters.
The median annual wage for drafters was $60,290 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,390, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $92,970.
Median annual wages for drafters in May 2021 were as follows:
- Electrical and electronics drafters - $61,510
- Architectural and civil drafters - $60,340
- Mechanical drafters - $60,200
- Drafters, all other - $54,240
In May 2021, the median annual wages for drafters in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
- Architectural, engineering, and related services - $60,460
- Construction - $60,210
- Manufacturing - $58,420
- Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services - $49,170
Most drafters work full time. Some work more than 40 hours a week.