Significant Points

  • The type and quality of postsecondary drafting programs varies considerably; prospective students should be careful in selecting a program.
  • Opportunities should be best for individuals who have at least 2 years of postsecondary training in drafting and considerable skill and experience using computer-aided drafting (CAD) systems.
  • Demand for particular drafting specializations varies geographically, depending on the needs of local industry.

Nature of the Work [About this section]  Index

Drafters prepare technical drawings and plans used by production and construction workers to build everything from manufactured products such as spacecraft or industrial machinery to structures such as office buildings or oil and gas pipelines. Their drawings provide visual guidelines, showing the technical details of the products and structures, specifying dimensions, materials to be used, and procedures and processes to be followed. Drafters fill in technical details, using drawings, rough sketches, specifications, codes, and calculations previously made by engineers, surveyors, architects, or scientists. For example, they use their knowledge of standardized building techniques to draw in the details of a structure. Some drafters use their knowledge of engineering and manufacturing theory and standards to draw the parts of a machine in order to determine design elements such as the number and kind of fasteners needed to assemble it. They use technical handbooks, tables, calculators, and computers to do this.

Traditionally, drafters sat at drawing boards and used compasses, dividers, protractors, triangles, and other drafting devices to prepare a drawing manually. Most drafters now use computer-aided drafting (CAD) systems to prepare drawings. These systems employ computer work stations which create a drawing on a video screen. The drawings are stored electronically so that revisions or duplications can be made easily. These systems also permit drafters to easily and quickly prepare variations of a design. Although this equipment has become easier to operate, CAD is only a tool. Persons who produce technical drawings using CAD still function as a drafter, and need most of the knowledge of traditional drafters—relating to drafting skills and standards—as well as CAD skills.

As CAD technology advances and the cost of the systems continues to fall, it is likely that almost all drafters will use CAD systems regularly in the future. However, manual drafting may still be used in certain applications, especially in specialty firms that produce many one-of-a-kind drawings with little repetition.

Drafting work has many specializations and titles may denote a particular discipline of design or drafting. Architectural drafters draw architectural and structural features of buildings and other structures. They may specialize by the type of structure, such as residential or commercial, or by material used, such as reinforced concrete, masonry, steel, or timber.

Aeronautical drafters prepare engineering drawings detailing plans and specifications used for the manufacture of aircraft, missiles, and parts.

Electrical drafters prepare wiring and layout diagrams used by workers who erect, install, and repair electrical equipment and wiring in communication centers, powerplants, electrical distribution systems, and buildings.

Electronic drafters draw wiring diagrams, circuit board assembly diagrams, schematics, and layout drawings used in the manufacture, installation, and repair of electronic devices and components.

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.

Mechanical drafters prepare detail and assembly drawings of a wide variety of machinery and mechanical devices, indicating dimensions, fastening methods, and other requirements.

Process piping or pipeline drafters prepare drawings used for layout, construction, and operation of oil and gas fields, refineries, chemical plants, and process piping systems.

Working Conditions [About this section]  Index

Drafters usually work in comfortable offices furnished to accommodate their tasks. They may sit at adjustable drawing boards or drafting tables when doing manual drawings, although most drafters work at computer terminals much of the time. Because they spend long periods of time in front of computer terminals doing detailed work, drafters may be susceptible to eyestrain, back discomfort, and hand and wrist problems.

Employment [About this section]  Index

Drafters held about 283,000 jobs in 1998. Over 35 percent of all drafters worked in engineering and architectural services firms that design construction projects or do other engineering work on a contract basis for organizations in other industries. Another 29 percent worked in durable goods manufacturing industries, such as machinery, electrical equipment, and fabricated metals. The remainder were mostly employed in the construction, communications, utilities, and personnel supply services industries. About 17,600 were self-employed in 1998.

Training, Other Qualifications, & Advancement [About this section]  Index

Employers prefer applicants for drafting positions who have completed postsecondary school training in drafting, which is offered by technical institutes, community colleges, and some 4-year colleges and universities. Employers are most interested in applicants who have well-developed drafting and mechanical drawing skills; a knowledge of drafting standards, mathematics, science, and engineering technology; and a solid background in computer-aided drafting and design techniques. In addition, communication and problem-solving skills are important.

Individuals planning careers in drafting should take courses in math, science, computer technology, design or computer graphics, and any high school drafting courses available. Mechanical and visual aptitude are also important. Prospective drafters should be able to draw freehand, three-dimensional objects and do detailed work accurately and neatly. 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.

Entry level or junior drafters usually do routine work under close supervision. After gaining experience, intermediate level drafters progress to more difficult work with less supervision. They may be required 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, and with appropriate college degrees, drafters may go on to become engineering technicians, engineers, or architects.

Many types of publicly and privately operated schools provide some form of drafting training. The kind and quality of programs vary considerably. Therefore, prospective students should be careful in selecting a program. They should contact prospective employers regarding their preferences and ask schools to provide information about the kinds of jobs obtained by graduates, type and condition of instructional facilities and equipment, and faculty qualifications.

Technical institutes offer intensive technical training but less of the general education than do junior and community colleges. Certificates or diplomas based on completion of a certain number of course hours may be rewarded. Many offer 2-year associate degree programs, which are similar to or part of the programs offered by community colleges or State university systems. Other technical institutes are run by private, often for-profit, organizations, sometimes called proprietary schools. Their programs vary considerably in both length and type of courses offered.

Community colleges offer curriculums similar to those in technical institutes but include more courses on theory and liberal arts. Often there is little or no difference between technical institute and community college programs. However, courses taken at community colleges are more likely to be accepted for credit at 4-year colleges than those at technical institutes. After completing a 2-year associate degree program, graduates may obtain jobs as drafters or continue their education in a related field at 4-year colleges. Four-year colleges usually do not offer drafting training, but college courses in engineering, architecture, and mathematics are useful for obtaining a job as a drafter.

Area vocational-technical schools are postsecondary public institutions that serve local students and emphasize training needed by local employers. Many offer introductory drafting instruction. Most require a high school diploma or its equivalent for admission.

Technical training obtained in the Armed Forces can also be applied in civilian drafting jobs. Some additional training may be necessary, depending on the technical area or military specialty.

The American Design Drafting Association (ADDA) has established a certification program for drafters. Although drafters are not usually required to be certified by employers, certification demonstrates that nationally recognized standards have been met. Individuals who wish to become certified must pass the Drafter Certification Test, which is administered periodically at ADDA-authorized test sites. Applicants are tested on their knowledge and understanding of basic drafting concepts such as geometric construction, working drawings, and architectural terms and standards.

Job Outlook [About this section]  Index

Employment of drafters is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2008. Although industrial growth and increasingly complex design problems associated with new products and manufacturing will increase the demand for drafting services, greater use of CAD equipment by architects and engineers, as well as drafters, should offset this growth in demand. Many job openings, however, are expected to arise as drafters move to other occupations or leave the labor force.

Opportunities should be best for individuals who have at least 2 years of postsecondary training in a drafting program that provides strong technical skills, and who have considerable skill and experience using CAD systems. CAD has increased the complexity of drafting applications while enhancing the productivity of drafters. It has also enhanced the nature of drafting by creating more possibilities for design and drafting. As technology continues to advance, employers will look for drafters having a strong background in fundamental drafting principles with a higher level of technical sophistication and an ability to apply this knowledge to a broader range of responsibilities.

Demand for particular drafting specializations varies throughout the country because employment is usually contingent upon the needs of local industry. Employment of drafters remains highly concentrated in industries that are sensitive to cyclical changes in the economy, such as engineering and architectural services and durable goods manufacturing. During recessions, drafters may be laid off. However, a growing number of drafters should continue to be employed on a temporary or contract basis, as more companies turn to the personnel supply services industry to meet their changing needs.

Earnings [About this section]  Index

Median hourly earnings of drafters were $15.56 in 1998. The middle 50 percent earned between $12.29 and $19.73. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $10.19 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $24.84. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of drafters in 1997 are shown below:

Motor vehicles and equipment  $21.50
Personnel supply services  16.20
Miscellaneous business services  15.60
Fabricated structural metal products  14.30


Related Occupations [About this section]  Index

Other workers who prepare or analyze detailed drawings and make precise calculations and measurements include architects, landscape architects, designers, engineers,0 engineering technicians, science technicians, cartographers, and surveyors.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section]  Index

Information on schools offering programs in drafting and related fields is available from:

  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology, 2101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 302, Arlington, VA 22201.

Information about certification is available from:

  • American Design Drafting Association, P.O. Box 11937, Columbia, SC 29211.
O*NET Codes: 22514A, 22514B, 22514C, 22514D, & 22517 About the O*NET codes

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