CAD Jobs—A World of Opportunity
The role of the architectural draftsman has been around for thousands of years; there's evidence that the ancient Egyptians used drafting tools to design the Pyramids. But in the computerized world of today's architects, the traditional T-square and triangle have given way to computer-aided design systems — also known as CAD. CAD jobs are now an important part of the architectural profession, allowing architects to not only reproduce traditional blueprints, but also sophisticated three-dimensional renderings that can even be “walked” through using the computer driven power of virtual reality.
Types of CAD Jobs in Architecture
In general, architectural computer-aided draftsmen are responsible for making blueprints and plans for buildings and other structures. As part of the job, they need to know all about the city, state, and federal building codes, as well as the features of building construction. Many architectural CAD jobs cover a wide variety of specialist areas — some CAD positions specialize in working with certain materials such as stone, metal, wood, or stucco, while others require designing around specific types of structures such as hospitals, banks, homes, or factories.
Landscape architecture is another excellent source for CAD jobs. Besides blueprints diagramming plant and landscape elements, landscape architects can now use CAD tools to create vivid landscapes that even factor in weather and plant growth effects.
The core of a CAD job is the tools — the computer programs used to generate plans and rendered images. CAD software packages such as AutoCAD, MicroStation, Pro/E, ArchiCAD, or Mastercam are considered industry standards, although CAD tools like VectorWorks, Realtime Landscaping Pro, and Visual Nature Studio are equally important for landscape-based CAD jobs. Architects not only use CAD tools, but they even design their own computer-aided design programs.
What Is the Job Like?
Like other computer positions, CAD jobs take place in open, clean, well-lit environments, with plenty of space for the computers and digital workspaces required by these jobs. Hours are typically 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. Landscape CAD designers may need to go outdoors occasionally to survey sites or oversee landscape installations.
Most employers seek CAD workers with postsecondary drafting training. These courses are offered via community or a four-year college/technical school program nationwide. Strong drafting and mechanical drawing skills are a must — CAD tools can't replace a basic understanding of drafting and perspective! A thorough understanding of mathematics, engineering, physics, and drafting standards is also a must, as well as strong familiarity with CAD tools in the specific area of expertise (buildings vs. landscape for example).
Although many employers do not require it, the American Design Drafting Association's (ADDA) Drafter Certification Program is considered a standard for demonstrating a professional understanding of national best practices. Certification requires passing the ADDA-authorized Drafter Certification Test, which tests basic drafting concepts, drawings, terms, and architectural standards.
Entry-level CAD job salaries start in the $27,010 range. Experienced CAD architectural workers' salaries range up to $52,220 per year, with some variation based on location. The median salary for CAD jobs is approximately $41,960 yearly. While CAD jobs are available all over the country, architectural jobs are different from most other CAD positions in that they are not as tied to the major urban markets of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
One to three years of routine hands-on experience is required for entry-level computer-aided drafters to move up to higher level positions (such as senior CAD drafter) requiring less supervision. Many employers finance their best designer to gain college-level education — with these degrees, they can advance to architect or CAD supervisor positions.
As of the 2006 US Department of Labor survey, about 116,000 people held architecturally based CAD jobs, with about 49% of these working on a contract basis for architectural firms. Although the demand is increasing, the computer-aided design field is still expected to grow at a rate slower than the general job market, due to the lengthy process of gaining experience in the field, as well as outsourcing to offshore markets.
The traditions of the architectural profession are still alive and well, but the addition of computer-aided design has opened up an entire new world of drafting and rendering capacities. For job seekers with strong drafting and perspective skills and a willingness to master the tools needed, a CAD job may be just the ticket to an exciting and rewarding career.