There’s something amazing about watching a well-thought-out plan come to life, and CAD operators experience this exciting chain of events on a regular basis.
While watching an idea or draft come to fruition is certainly a perk of the profession, a CAD (computer-aided design) operator’s job requires hard work, attention to detail, and the willingness to continuously learn.
Although it can take some time for CAD operators to learn the ropes and work their way up the corporate ladder, most experienced CAD professionals will tell you the climb is well worth the time and effort, and their career is a fulfilling one.
From the civil and mechanical fields to the electrical, architectural, and aeronautical industries, CAD operators play a key role in developing plans for products, structures, and virtually anything that must be designed prior to its construction.
What is a CAD operator?
Men and women who work as CAD operators utilize computer-aided design systems in order to create drafts, diagrams, technical drawings, and blueprints used for product, machinery, building, and interior design.
CAD operators, who are sometimes referred to as drafters or CAD technicians, are needed in many industries, including the mechanical, electronic, and architectural fields, among many others. These professionals often work closely with fellow CAD operators, as well as architects and engineers.
The scope of work for a CAD operator will likely vary depending on several factors. A new operator may primarily correct drafts and assist with design projects before working his or her way up to creating new designs within CAD systems and presenting them to clients and colleagues.
In an interview with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Pennsylvania-based CAD professional Heather Walk explained that she began her career making corrections before working her way up to designing virtually every aspect of a 12,000-square-foot lab.
“Beginning drafters should realize that you’re going to have to do some grunt work,” Walk shared. “You might spend days on end making copies of drawings or filing drawings. But you have to do all of this in order to advance.”
Conducting research is an integral part of a CAD operator’s position. In addition to preparing drafts, diagrams, drawings, and blueprints, operators are tasked with delivering plans that adhere to building codes, safety regulations, and site-specific requirements.
Tech-savvy individuals with an eye for detail, critical thinking and complex problem-solving skills, and tend to excel in this profession.
Although occasional hand drawing may be required in some CAD positions, advanced drafting technology is regularly utilized, as it saves time and allows for flexibility and precision. As modern technology continues to advance, CAD operators must continue strengthening their skills and familiarizing themselves with the design systems they utilize on a daily basis.
While CAD operators typically spend the majority of the workday in an office setting, in some cases, these professionals must visit worksites to assess the unique needs of a project and identify any potential problems.
CAD operators are generally expected to work full-time hours with the possibility of overtime.
Many employers looking to fill entry-level CAD jobs prefer candidates with a certificate or associate’s degree. CAD operator certification, technical, and college programs prepare students for the world of computer-aided design.
Most include courses dedicated to various design techniques, and the buildings and other structures in which these techniques may be implemented, along with mechanical and industrial modeling applications, sketching, perspective, and dimensions.
Course offerings may vary depending on the institution, but many technical schools and colleges offer 3-D modeling classes, electronic drafting, drawing for engineering, and architectural drafting. By learning a variety of skills and techniques, students are able to determine which aspects of design they excel in and enjoy, as well as areas in need of improvement.
It’s important to note that not all employers who hire CAD operators require a college or technical degree. In fact, some companies don’t even require a certification. Many employers consider experience in lieu of higher education, and some are willing to train qualified candidates who have little to no experience. In many cases, a background in drafting may help job seekers stand out to prospective employers.
Advanced positions, including supervisory roles, often require a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree with equivalent experience.
In addition to higher education and on-the-job training, some employers prefer that prospective employees have experience with specific CAD software. Operators are generally expected to possess excellent communication and problem-solving skills.
These professionals should work well independently, as well as with clients and colleagues. Many employers look for highly motivated, talented operators who are forward-thinkers and possess a positive attitude.
Ongoing training in safety regulations is essential for CAD professionals working in virtually any industry. Operators are generally asked to participate in, or facilitate, regular safety meetings to help ensure that everyone within the organization is up-to-date on ever-changing safety regulations and company policies.
Because CAD operators are often required to visit job sites, a valid driver’s license and good driving record are often a condition of hire. Before beginning work, employees are often expected to pass a background check and complete orientation.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average salary of a CAD operator is currently $55,550 annually. That breaks down to $4,629 per month, or $26.71 per hour; however, salary can vary greatly depending on education, experience, industry, and location.
Below, we breakdown the average annual salary of CAD operators by city and state, according to Payscale.com:
- New York, New York: $39,997
- Phoenix, Arizona: $40,000
- Houston, Texas: $45,000
- Indianapolis, Indiana: $45,006
- Columbus, Ohio: $46,000
- Seattle, Washington: $46,000
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: $46,299
- Chicago, Illinois: $52,500
- Madison, Wisconsin: $55,107
- San Jose, California: $72,986
In addition to salary, CAD operators may earn additional income from bonuses and commissions throughout the year.
There is promising potential for growth within the CAD field. Whether an operator is eager to gain new skills and experience, move onto a more lucrative industry within the CAD field, and/or pursue a leadership role, there are limitless opportunities for advancement.
CAD professionals may advance from operator to designer, supervisor, or senior drafter. As mentioned previously, these higher-level positions may require an advanced degree and/or extensive experience, depending on the employer.
5 potential CAD operator jobs
With so many career options within the CAD field, there’s a position for virtually every CAD professional. The following positions are challenging and rewarding, and because each project is unique, there is little to no chance of these roles becoming monotonous. Plus, every skill is transferable, so CAD professionals will carry their skill-set and knowledge into any position.
CAD professionals who specialize in electrical drafting are trained in preparing wiring diagrams that are utilized in the installation and repair of cables and other electrical equipment.
Individuals looking for a career in electrical drafting may find these positions under the following titles: Associate drafter, AutoCAD designer, or electrical CAD operator.
Job duties for mechanical drafters typically include creating detailed diagrams and drawings of machines and other mechanical equipment. These detailed drawings generally include all pertinent engineering information.
When searching for a position as a mechanical drafter, keep in mind that job postings may include the following titles: Auto design detailer or automotive design drafter.
One popular CAD specialty is civil drafting. These drafters create drawings and maps that are utilized in the civil engineering field. Tasks may include preparing drafts of highways, bridges, and other large-scale projects.
Open positions for civil drafters can often be found under these job titles: Civil design specialist, civil designer, civil draftsman, or civil technician.
The wonderful world of architectural drafting involves creating plans for architectural structures as instructed by an experienced architect.
Alternative job titles for these CAD pros may include the following: Architectural CAD technician, architectural draftsman, or architectural technologist.
These CAD professionals work closely with aerospace engineers to prepare blueprints that may be utilized in the creation of aircraft systems and missiles. These drafters must deliver drafts showcasing various views and angles, and they must have the ability and willingness to revise drafts as needed.
You may also find aeronautical positions under the title “aerospace drafter.”
Let Us Find the Right CAD Operator Job For You
As you can see, there are many avenues a CAD operator can choose to take, and there’s plenty of room for advancement within this lucrative field. With job opportunities throughout the country, CAD professionals of all skill levels are able to find rewarding positions that are a perfect fit for their skillset, experience, and career goals.
Surehand is dedicated to saving you time and energy, and simplifying your job search by notifying you of open positions that align with your qualifications. Take a few minutes to fill out your free online profile, and we’ll take it from there! Rather than sifting through job boards and settling for a position that isn’t a perfect fit, we’ll search on your behalf and only notify you of positions that meet your specifications. Best of all, you have complete control over the information potential employers are able to view. You can even remain anonymous until you’re ready to share your information.
Job satisfaction rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and we’re determined to continue contributing to that upward trend by connecting talented professionals with rewarding positions.
As famed psychologist and job enrichment expert Fredrick Herzberg once said, “True motivation comes from achievement, personal development, job satisfaction, and recognition.” We couldn’t agree more.
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