The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment opportunities for drafters will increase by 7% from 2016 to 2026, matching the expected average growth rate for the rest of the economy. In addition to solid job prospects, drafting careers offer above-average salaries. In 2018, drafters earned a median wage of $55,550, nearly $17,000 more per year than the median pay for all other occupations.
To become a drafter, you typically need only an associate degree or postsecondary certificate. A two-year degree from a community college also qualifies you for many related occupations, including mechanical engineering technician and surveying and mapping technician. You may, however, need a bachelor's degree to advance into more senior or specialized positions.
This page provides an overview of drafting and design careers, including additional information on education and experience requirements, earning potential across industries, and advice on finding a job after graduation.
Skills Gained in a Drafting Program
Drafters must master a wide variety of skills, including proficiency with computer-aided design (CAD) software to develop technical drawings and plans. They also must have strong math, communication, and time-management skills.
Drafting programs at community colleges and trade schools equip students with most of the tools and knowledge necessary for entry-level positions, though some companies may require new hires to have completed on-the-job training.
- Much of a drafter's job involves using design software to create technical drawings. Depending on their area of specialization, drafters may create technical plans for electronic circuitry, bridges, or buildings. Drafting programs give students the opportunity to gain practical experience with multiple CAD software tools, including AutoCAD, Revit, and SolidWorks.
- Drafters need strong math skills to calculate weights, angles, volumes, and costs. Building on their high school algebra and basic geometry classes, drafting students often take courses in technical mathematics, descriptive geometry, and general physics. They may also study calculus to prepare for entering a bachelor's program in engineering.
- Interpersonal Communication
- While much of their work is technical in nature, drafters must also interact with engineers, architects, designers, and, in some cases, clients. Students hone their communication and collaboration skills through group projects, class discussions and case studies, and internships or other field-based learning experiences.
- Students in drafting programs learn to analyze issues and generate solutions. For example, an electronics drafter may need to determine why a wiring system simulation fails to deliver power to all parts of a building. By addressing flaws during the design process, drafters help ensure safety and efficiency.
- Technical Writing
- Drafters primarily develop visual plans. However, they often must create instructions, annotations, and other written content for engineers, builders, and repair technicians. In addition to general education coursework in English composition, many community college drafting programs feature classes in technical writing and communication.
Why Pursue a Career in Drafting?
By pursuing a career in drafting, you have the opportunity to contribute to the design of important products and structures such as medical devices, computer chips, skyscrapers, and highways. The field also offers job security, excellent compensation, and ample opportunity for advancement.
While drafters earned a median salary of $55,550 in 2018, those within certain specializations made even more, with the median for electrical and electronics drafters being a shade over $60,000 that same year. The top 10% of earners in the field, typically those with the most education and experience, commanded wages in excess of $85,140.
Many drafters advance into more senior roles in architecture or engineering after pursuing further education. If you hold an associate degree in drafting, you may be able to transfer up to 60 credits into a bachelor's program in mechanical engineering at a public college or university. The BLS projects that employment opportunities for mechanical engineers will increase by 9% from 2016 to 2026; these professionals earned a median salary of $87,370 in 2018.
Other engineering disciplines offer even higher salaries. For example, computer hardware engineers earned a median salary of $114,600 in 2018, while aerospace engineers enjoyed a median salary of $115,220. Starting your career as a drafter can serve as a bridge to more lucrative professions.
How Much Do Drafting Graduates Make?
Your earning potential as a drafting graduate depends on a variety of factors. For example, mechanical drafters earn an average of approximately $1,000 more per year than architectural and civil drafters. You may also earn more working in an industry like waste management, as opposed to manufacturing or wholesale trade. In addition, jobs in urban areas typically offer higher salaries than those in more rural communities.
Your education and level of experience also play a role in shaping your overall compensation. The information below illustrates how median salaries for drafters and designers tend to increase as they advance in their careers.
How to Become a Drafter
Earn Your Degree
To become a drafter, you must complete some form of postsecondary education, such as an associate of applied science in drafting from a community college or technical school. Some aspiring drafters instead earn a diploma or academic certificate.
Associate programs also provide instruction in general education topics, including English literature and composition, and the humanities. As a result, earning an associate degree makes it easier to ultimately gain a bachelor's degree, the standard requirement for supervisory positions and occupations like architect or civil engineer. Diploma and certificate programs allow you to enter the workforce faster, but they may limit your career advancement opportunities.
Regardless of the educational path you choose, drafting programs typically feature coursework in mathematics, design fundamentals, and sketching. They also train students in the use of CAD software and building information modeling (BIM) technologies. In addition, you will likely need to take specialized classes in a focus area, such as mechanical or civil drafting.
High school students can prepare for drafting programs by studying subjects like algebra, geometry, physics, computer science, and graphic design. They may also research apprenticeships that combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction.
How Many Years of College Does It Take to Become a Drafter?
Most associate programs in drafting consist of 60 credits, which full-time students typically complete in two years. Part-time learners may need up to four years to meet all graduation requirements.
The time needed to earn a diploma or postsecondary certificate can vary, though most require six months to one year of full-time study. Apprenticeships usually extend this time frame, as apprentices work under the supervision of an experienced drafter while taking classes at a community college or technical school on a part-time basis.
Some online programs allow you to learn at your own pace. On these accelerated tracks, students can advance through their coursework as soon as they demonstrate a mastery of core concepts and skills.
Concentrations Available for Drafting Majors
- Architectural Drafting
- Architectural drafting students learn to develop technical plans and drawings of buildings and other structures. In addition to more general drafting coursework, architectural students explore topics such as sustainability and construction scheduling and planning. They may also specialize in a type of building, like residential or commercial, or specific construction material, such as steel or reinforced concrete.
- Civil Drafting
- Civil drafters create the topographical maps used in the construction of highways, bridges, dams, and other civil engineering projects. Students who choose this concentration hone skills and knowledge related to surveying, plotting drawings from field notes, project stationing, and drainage-structure planning. Civil-drafting students may also take on jobs in the petroleum and chemical processing industries.
- Electrical Drafting
- Students who wish to design wiring diagrams for installing and repairing electrical equipment often take classes in AC/DC electricity fundamentals, solar photovoltaic systems, and energy efficiency. Electrical drafting jobs at power plants and power distribution systems may also require significant on-the-job training.
- Electronics Drafting
- Aspiring electronics drafters study many of the same topics as electrical drafting students. However, they focus more on wiring and circuitry for electronic devices and components, such as computer chips and subscriber identification module (SIM) cards. Programs that offer this concentration usually feature extensive coursework in computer science and engineering.
- Mechanical Drafting
- To work as a mechanical drafter, students must learn how to design layouts and plans for a wide variety of mechanical tools and devices, including medical equipment, robotic installers, and heating and cooling systems. Coursework within this concentration covers subjects like manufacturing processes and procedures, industry print reading, and geometric dimensioning and tolerancing.
What Can You Do With a Drafting Degree?
While a diploma or certificate primarily prepares you for entry-level roles in drafting, you can take on a variety of jobs by earning an associate degree. For example, you may serve as an environmental engineering technician, using your skills in CAD to help environmental engineers plan and construct wastewater treatment facilities. You may instead work as an industrial engineering technician, supporting engineers in their efforts to devise more efficient systems of production.
Earning an online associate degree in drafting can also help qualify you for admission to bachelor's programs in architecture and engineering, opening up even more professional opportunities. For instance, with a degree from a four-year college or university, you can become a petroleum engineer and develop new methods for extracting oil or natural gas from underground and undersea deposits. Associate programs in drafting may also help lay the foundation for careers in aerospace, civil, electrical, and nuclear engineering.
Associate Degree in Drafting
Most students begin associate programs in drafting by taking general education classes in subjects such as English composition, history, and psychology. They then advance into major-specific coursework, exploring topics like descriptive geometry, engineering graphics, and the fundamentals of estimation. Students also receive an introduction to multiple kinds of CAD software, including CATIA and Autodesk Inventor.
Many of these programs also require or strongly encourage drafting students to participate in a fabrication lab, giving them the opportunity to develop hands-on experience in welding, soldering, printed circuit-board design, and 3D plotting. Students may instead choose to complete an internship or other field-based learning experience.
Drafters use specialized software to convert engineering and architectural designs into technical drawings. They often focus on a specific discipline, such as civil, electrical, or mechanical drafting. Most drafters hold either an associate degree or a postsecondary certificate.
- Surveying or Mapping Technician
Surveying and mapping technicians collect data about the Earth's surface to inform mapmaking, zoning, or construction. They generally work under the supervision of a surveyor, cartographer, or senior technician known as a "party chief." Most of these jobs require a high school diploma, though postsecondary training in geographic information systems (GIS) can give candidates a competitive edge.
Bachelor's Degree in Drafting
Bachelor's programs in drafting, engineering technology, and related fields generally consist of 120 credits and typically require four years of full-time study. In addition to general education classes, students receive more advanced instruction in subjects like technical illustrations, machine-tool technologies, and residential architectural drawing. These programs may also feature coursework in business administration, preparing students for supervisory and managerial roles.
Many undergraduates also complete a capstone project. These projects require students to apply their classroom learning to a real-world challenge in drafting or engineering. For example, they may partner with a local landscape architecture firm to help design a new public park.
- Senior CAD Designer
Senior CAD designers collaborate with engineers and architects and direct the work of drafters and design technicians. These professionals have advanced CAD and BIM skills gained in a bachelor's program and may have additional expertise in project management and financial administration.
- Project Manager
Project managers oversee all aspects of project development. For example, a construction project manager may supervise drafters developing the technical drawings for a new building, hire laborers and other construction staff, purchase building materials, and ensure compliance with safety and fire codes. Most companies prefer to hire project managers with a bachelor's degree.
Master's Degree in Drafting
While few master's programs in drafting exist, you must often take graduate-level coursework in CAD and technical drawing as a requirement for earning an advanced degree in engineering or a related discipline. These master's programs usually consist of 30-60 credits, with full-time students graduating in 1-2 years.
Depending on their career goals, graduate engineering students may complete either a master's project or thesis. Master's projects help prepare learners for jobs in management or specialized practice, while thesis tracks equip students with the skills and knowledge needed to conduct research or pursue a career in academia.
- Aerospace Engineer
Aerospace engineers design aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. They also build and evaluate prototypes to ensure safety, develop quality standards, and identify problems and generate solutions. While most jobs in aerospace engineering require only a bachelor's, engineers with a master's degree may benefit from stronger job prospects.
- Engineering Manager
Engineering managers plan and direct activities at engineering firms. For example, a manager may hire civil engineers and technicians to create a proposal for a new bridge. They may also develop budgets, oversee training programs for workers, and coordinate with government officials. Though it's not typically required, many engineering managers have an advanced degree.
Where Can I Work as a Drafting Graduate?
Drafting graduates work in many different industries across the country. They may, for example, work as electronics drafters, supporting the development of new processors for smartphones in Silicon Valley. They may instead become mechanical drafters, helping automotive engineers plan and build a new car-assembly facility in Detroit.
After earning your drafting degree or postsecondary certificate, your professional opportunities will largely be shaped by where you choose to live and the industry in which you work.
Employment and salaries for drafters vary considerably from state to state. For example, just over 1,800 drafting and design professionals work in Texas, while Louisiana boasts the highest per-capita rate in the country. While only 270 drafters work in Maryland, they earned an annual mean salary of just over $79,000 in 2018, the highest in the nation for this field.
Generally, urban areas offer more jobs and higher salaries than rural settings. Smaller communities, however, often have a lower overall cost of living. When deciding where to live and work, remember to also consider factors like quality of life and the availability of educational opportunities for you and your family.
- Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services
Firms in this industry provide a variety of services, including landscape architecture design, environmental and construction engineering, drafting, and building inspection.
Average Salary: $55,960
- Furniture and Related Product Manufacturing
In the U.S., roughly 1,400 drafters help create technical plans that guide the manufacture of furniture. These drafters may also develop drawings for related products, including mattresses, cabinets, window blinds, and home fixtures.
Average Salary: $49,050
- Building Equipment Contractors
Companies and contractors working in this area primarily install and service heating, cooling, water, and electrical systems. They may also install and maintain elevators, escalators, centralized cleaning systems, and other specialized equipment.
Average Salary: $62,560
- Nonmetallic Mineral Product Manufacturing
Professionals in this industry take nonmetallic minerals, such as clay or gravel, and transform them into finished products. For example, a manufacturer may melt silica sand in order to make glass windows.
Average Salary: $48,700
- Fabricated Metal Product Manufacturing
Fabricated metal manufacturers process ores and metal to create products like structural support beams, boilers, and nuts and bolts. Drafters produce the plans used by forgers, welders, and assemblers.
Average Salary: $47,950
How Do You Find a Job in Drafting?
Many drafting jobs are listed on national employment search engines, like Indeed or ZipRecruiter. As you apply to positions, work on growing your professional network. Tell friends, family, and trusted colleagues that you are looking for a new job. Attend networking events organized by a local business group or your college's alumni office. Contact experienced drafters and engineering professionals to arrange informational interviews.
The professional associations listed below may also host job boards or career centers with industry-specific opportunities.
Professional Resources for Drafting Majors
Since its founding in 1948, ADDA has represented the professional interests of drafters and designers working across multiple industries. The organization offers four professional certifications, including a credential specifically for digital designers. ADDA also hosts resources for practitioners, maintains student chapters at universities across the country, and advertises job openings through its career center.
ACADIA serves as an international network for digital design professionals and scholars. In addition to organizing an annual conference on topics like disruption and cognitive machine design, the association publishes research articles and policy briefs, curates news relevant to the field, and provides opportunities for collaboration.
AIBD strives to help members develop new skills and demonstrate professional expertise through its certified professional building designer credential. The organization also organizes local and national events, publishes a magazine and newsletter, and hosts a job board.
Although it does not specifically represent drafters, ASME offers many valuable resources for drafting professionals and students. For instance, the organization provides free online access to a library of articles on topics like bioengineering, career development in the field of engineering, and standards and certification. ASME also organizes conferences, competitions, and industry events.
AITA promotes the value of architecture and offers a wealth of resources to drafters and designers who aspire to become architects. The institute offers scholarship and fellowship programs, a guide to becoming licensed, and curates best practices and research specifically for emerging professionals.