Schools and Education
|Recommended Degree Level||Associate|
|Number of Jobs, 2012||63,220|
|Annual Job Growth Rate||2.9%|
|Job Openings per Year (est.)||2,050|
What's needed: In order to find gainful employment in the field, mechanical drafting technicians must obtain an associate degree from a community collegess or vocational school. These programs are available at most of these institutions, especially in regions with healthy levels of manufacturing employment. Many mechanical drafting technicians obtain their associate degree en route to earning a bachelor or graduate degree in the field. Holders of these more advanced degrees can work as skilled mechanical drafting technologists or applied engineers and may earn substantially more than mechanical drafters.
What you study:
Prospective mechanical drafters must study a range of mathematical and applied-science subjects. These include:
- Trigonometry and geometry
- Advanced algebra
- Basic physics
- Basic computer science
To prepare for these math-intensive classes, aspiring workers should begin to take challenging math and science courses in high school.
A quick intro into the work of mechanical drafters. Created for the US Dept. of Labor.
A Day in the Life
As a mechanical drafting technician, you'll work in an office or cubicle stocked with a state-of-the-art computer as well as analog tools like compasses, triangles and curves. Depending upon your position and level of seniority within your company, you could work in a cubicle-filled bullpen, design studio or standalone office.
When you come into work in the morning, you'll sit down at your desk and check your e-mail and phone messages. Before you begin your workday, you'll spend 15 to 20 minutes catching up on communications with the engineers who will use the machines and tools that you design as well as your fellow designers at the office. Once you're caught up, you'll commence work on the drawings of new and redesigned parts, tools and machinery that you've been working on for the past week.
As a mechanical drafter, you'll be responsible for designing many different types of machines and tools. On this particular day, you could be working on the design for a new robotic arm that's crucial to your factory's assembly line. Later in the week, you might start working on a complicated hydraulic lift. By next month, you'll be working with a team of drafters to create a blueprint of the power generator for your facility's new assembly line. Other mechanical drafters at your facility might work on vehicle transmissions, welding tools and elevator gears.
For all of these projects, you'll start by sketching out a basic schematic drawing by hand. You'll need to understand exactly how the machine's components interact with one another. As such, you may need to spend part of your day studying similar pieces of equipment. As the day goes on, you'll consult these examples to ensure that your drawings remain true to form.
To help flesh out your drawings, you'll use efficient computer-aided drafting and design software as well as analog blueprints and measuring devices. Over the course of your day, you'll also use engineering triangles and circles to measure angles and accurately represent distances. When you have a question about a particular component of the tool or machine that you're designing, you'll consult with the engineer in charge of the project. If you're re-designing a tool or machine, you'll use the blueprints and abstracts that they provide to ensure that your new designs are functionally compatible with the devices.
During the afternoon, you might leave your office to visit your employer's testing facility and witness a test of a device that you recently helped to redesign. By witnessing the device in action, you'll be able to determine whether it needs to be tweaked further. As it's being tested, you'll make a detailed, statistics-based analysis of its performance and note areas that need to be improved. Although the engineer in charge of your project will have the last word as to whether the product that you helped to design is ready for commercial use, your presence on the factory floor will ensure that you're on the same page during any further re-designs.
In the late afternoon, you'll head home for the day. If you work at a facility that employs a significant number of welders and machinists, you'll probably leave work with the first-shift workers that use the devices that you design. As you walk out with them, you'll take pride in knowing that you help to provide them with high-quality tools and machines for their everyday tasks.
Certifications and Licensing
Mechanical drafters are not typically required to obtain special certifications or licenses to practice their profession. However, the American Design Drafting Association offers a "Drafter Certification Examination" that many drafting-school graduates choose to take. Those who pass this exam are highly-regarded within the industry and may command higher earnings than their non-certified peers. In addition, virtually all mechanical drafters must be familiar with Computer-Aided Drafting and Design software. As such, those who have successfully passed CADD certification courses may enjoy similar salary and job-flexibility benefits.
Full-time versus part-time:
Mechanical drafting technicians generally work in industrial settings on a full-time basis. Some work in dedicated design studios that keep regular weekday business hours. Others work in production facilities that may be open around the clock. Most of their work takes place on-site: Very few mechanical drafters have the luxury of working from home. However, most also keep regular hours. Even those who work at round-the-clock facilities rarely work deep into these factories' second or third shifts.
The following websites may be useful for those interested in becoming mechanical drafting technicians:
- American Design Drafting Association -- Originally founded in the mid-20th century to represent the interests of pipe-fitters who worked in the energy industry, the ADDA has expanded its membership rolls to include tens of thousands of drafters, designers and engineers. Its website offers primers on the drafting industry and provides detailed information about drafters' earnings, job duties and educational requirements. The ADDA also directs prospective drafters to certification examinations and state drafting associations.
- O-Net Online -- As an offshoot of the American Job Center Network, O-Net is a one-stop encyclopedia for prospective mechanical drafters. Its resources include an exhaustive and useful list of alternate job titles and probable career fields as well as an overview of the tools, skills and knowledge groups that successful drafters may use. To paint a comprehensive picture of the mechanical drafting profession, O-Net ranks all of these tools, skills and knowledge groups according to their relative importance in the field.
- U.S. Department of Labor -- The government-run Bureau of Labor Statistics provides key statistics regarding annual earnings, job growth and geographical employment levels for prospective mechanical drafting technicians. It also paints a comprehensive picture of mechanical drafters' work environments, job duties and work-life balances.