What Is a Computer Aided Design Technician?

Computer Aided Design Technicians use specialist software to produce, design, and engineer schematics, technical drawings, plans.

What Does a Computer Aided Design Technician Do?

A Computer Aided Design or CAD Technician works in an office environment with specialist software for the design of structures, products and systems. Regardless of which industry or area they work, their skills are transferable. Modern CAD technicians may work with either 2D (surface modeling) or 3D plans (solid modeling). In the 21st century, some CAD Technicians may be involved in 3D printing, a recent technology that allows the fast production of prototypes and models.

Their tasks include a variety of design responsibilities including producing design plans for prototypes. They may or may not be engineers with the technical knowledge that entails, and they may or may not have input into the production of the design. They will also be involved in the modification of digital designs while a product is still in the planning and design stage. This means they may be required to add technical data for reporting.

New products, especially electronic products, require designs and prototypes to ensure that they work as described. This is why any new product on the market requires lengthy testing, design approval, working models, prototypes and finally the finished design. Increasingly, they are using their transferable skills to design environments and landscapes. In this way, they have some skills in common with GIS specialists.

Computer Aided Design Technicians go by other names including drafters, CAD drafters and CAD operators. Their roles are usually similar with some variation.

Where Does a Computer Aided Design Technician Work?

CAD skills are transferable, useful in a wide range of industries. However, one industry stands out as employing more than any other industry. That is architectural services, and it employs 49% - that's nearly half - of all Computer Aided Design Technicians. This will include buildings and landscape architecture. Architecture requires superior technical skills at all steps of the way, including the design of models of every system and the building itself. Similarly, 9% work in construction although these CAD technicians will work with existing designs rather than at concept stage as they would with architects.

The second largest area of employment for CAD technicians is in manufacturing. As mentioned above, products require lengthy testing and design. CAD is one of the most important steps between the initial conceptual design drawings and producing the prototype, especially today with the advent of 3D modelling. Manufacturing can include as diverse a range as clothing, automotive parts, aerospace parts, electronics, heavy machinery and much more.

What Is the Average Computer Aided Design Technician Salary?

According to 2015 data, the median salary for CAD Technicians was $52,720. The range was $33,590 for the lowest 10% of earners and in excess of $83,350 for the highest 10% of earners. Electrical drafters earned the highest salary with an average of $59,520. Mechanical drafters earned around the median at $53,520 with architecture and civic drafters slightly lower at $50,710. All others earned around $49,650. The highest paying industry was construction despite employing amongst the fewest numbers at $53,330. This is just over the median. Manufacturing paid $52,120 and architecture industry paid slightly less at $52,030.

StateTotal EmploymentBottom 25%Median SalaryTop 75%
District of Columbia-$52,210$56,710$61,480
New Hampshire140$41,510$51,370$67,510
New Jersey600$47,210$61,960$79,200
New Mexico230$39,600$51,920$62,990
New York2,060$51,360$64,960$83,160
North Carolina610$40,080$47,430$62,500
North Dakota90$35,340$41,310$52,040
Puerto Rico100$26,220$28,610$32,260
Rhode Island50$40,100$47,880$69,690
South Carolina330$46,370$56,850$75,280
South Dakota30$34,910$40,450$46,000
West Virginia60$43,420$51,600$66,680

Table data taken from BLS (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes173012.htm)

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What Is the Job Demand for Computer Aided Design Technicians?

3D printing has revolutionized the manufacture of prototypes, improved accuracy and sped up production of new types of product. It has aided industry, but the number of jobs could be adversely affected by this new technology. For electronics, the industry is expected to grow some 5% between 2014 and 2024, which is slightly lower than the mean average of all jobs in the US. However, the picture for other types of drafting role is very different. Most opportunities will drop between 3% and 7% over the same period. CAD specialists could be largely protected from this drop, so candidates are advised to improve their employability with digital skills.

What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Computer Aided Design Technician?

High school students will need to demonstrate scientific proficiency, particularly in math and information technology. Technical skills are more highly valued with CAD Technician work than for most other subjects, but good grades in math, and in some cases physics (for architecture or engineering roles), will help the student in their intended career. However, any CAD qualification will provide transferable skills.

There are multiple education pathways for the prospective CAD Technician. The first choice is to pursue practical skills through post-secondary education. Most technical or community colleges offer CAD or related qualifications. These practical courses will teach working skills throughout the duration of the course. Students who pursue this path may need to seek internships or other avenues of working experience. You may be expected to carry out practical projects useful to the job.

The second path is to pursue a degree, which will open more opportunities for the prospective CAD technician. As these will teach both practical skills and theory relevant to certain industries, a degree course will benefit some entries into the CAD Technician jobs market. With the employment market looking precarious for the next decade, students should ideally pursue degrees where possible and where their grades permit. For specialist roles such as environmental engineering, it may be advisable to take a degree in Environmental Geoscience and take CAD as a minor or elective. Postgraduate degrees are not always required, but certification may be in some instances. Geographic Information Systems may be an advisable course to complement some roles.

CAD Technician - Related Degrees

What Kind Of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Computer Aided Design Technicians Have?

CAD is a large, global discipline that has been around for decades.

  • American Design Drafting Association: Their mission is to prepare CAD Technicians and other drafters to preserve the past and imagine the future. They provide certification that may be necessary for some roles in North America
  • United States National CAD Standard: This organization facilitates communication between the various disparate CAD professionals in the US, ensuring a commitment to standards and continued cooperation in the construction and architecture industries
  • ACADIA: The Association for CAD in Architecture promotes communication, standards and critical thinking between CAD workers in the architecture field