A computer-aided design or CAD technician uses CAD systems to create design plans for buildings and machinery. Essentially, a CAD technician job involves the production of electronic versions of the technical drawings which a draughtsman would previously have created with pen and paper at a drawing board.

CAD technicians are employed in a broad range of industries including construction, manufacturing and engineering. You could be working in local government, for the Civil Service, electricity and water supply or the shipbuilding, telecommunications and broadcasting industries.

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CAD technicians work with both 3D and 2D design – known respectively as solid and surface modelling. Solid modelling is the creation of a 3D display of a component or structure which engineers could use to take a ‘virtual tour’ around a proposed building or to look inside a piece of manufacturing machinery. With surface modelling, you would draw a flat representation of a design.

Your designs could also be used to help prepare estimates for how much projects are likely to cost, or for maintenance manuals and assembly instructions.

As a CAD technician, you could find yourself discussing a particular design with the engineering team, following your team leader’s instructions for developing a design, working from a computer model of the item or changing detailed diagrams so they can be more easily followed.

Most CAD technicians work as part of a small team with other technicians and engineers, with each member assigned a separate area of a project under the supervision of a design engineer. You’ll be working at a day-to-day level of individual projects rather than being involved in major policy decisions.

The drawings are produced on the computer screen using the mouse and keyboard to draw lines, shapes and components. Copying, pasting and amending drawings is clearly much quicker and easier than changing paper copies. Drawings can also be sent by email to anybody with the requisite software to open the file

Brian Harrison, director of Leicestershire-based BJ Harrison Consulting Services Ltd, which provides structural design, CAD and consultancy services, says: “Computerised draughting is now the norm, and the benefits of changing drawings and communicating by email have given much more flexibility to the engineer and designer. It’s worth checking out the various CAD packages available on the internet – many have free trial downloads.”

Salary

Professionals in the field made on average from £29,500 to £33,000 in 2008, and from £30,900 to £34,600 in 2009, according to figures from jobs posted on CareerStructure.com.

Hours and environment

You’ll spend most of your time at a CAD workstation, more often than not in an open-plan office, although some CAD technicians might also use a traditional drawing board to update old drawings. Most design offices aim to be light and airy. While regular office hours are the norm, occasional overtime may be needed to hit deadlines.

Depending on the industry you work in, you may need to visit a noisy, dusty factory area, or be based temporarily on site. (Most of the time, however, you’ll be away from the site.)

Skills and interests

You should have a basic grasp of engineering drawing and principles, and understand the qualities of metals as well as other materials. CAD technicians also need to appreciate construction methods and manufacturing processes. Good communications, numeracy and IT skills are all important, as is the ability to work as part of a team while also having plenty of your own initiative. Strong problem solving and a desire to come up with practical solutions will stand you in good stead. CAD technicians also need to have good colour vision, and be able to visualise designs in 3D.

You need to be able to convert verbal and written information into two dimensional drawings which will then be used on site for construction — accuracy and attention to detail are essential.

Industry

CAD design is a rapidly growing area, with opportunities in many different industries. Increasingly complex product design and manufacturing processes should mean CAD technicians will continue to enjoy good employment prospects.

Brian Harrison adds: “In general the construction industry is the first to go into recession but it is usually also first to come out. Any forward thinking company will need to get its design office up to speed if it wants to benefit from any upturn in the economy. This means there should always be opportunities for good CAD technicians.”

Entry

Entry is possible at the age of 16-18, with a modern apprenticeship. You will need four GCSEs with reasonable grades including maths and science or technology, or a relevant GNVQ/GSVQ level 2. However, for many employers, a genuine enthusiasm for the role has just as much value as paper qualifications.

It’s also possible to gain CAD skills by following college courses such as BTEC certificates in the subject, or in engineering. City & Guilds also runs CAD certificates, allowing you to specialise in 2D or 3D design.

There are various computer software products on the market but AutoCAD produced by an American company called Autodesk is the most widely used. This will give you a firm grasp of the basics of technical design. Other colleges may work with more specialised packages. It’s worth checking which package a college uses before starting the course.

Training and advancement

Training tends to be on the job, with theory covered by day or block release to a local college.

Once you have started work, your employer should offer more training in CAD software tailored to your industry. Relevant qualifications include NVQs in Performing Engineering Operations (Levels 1 and 2) or Engineering Technical Support (level 3). Or you may opt to study for an EAL Advanced Diploma in Engineering and Technology (Level 3).

It’s also possible as a CAD technician to study for a BTEC, HNC or HND or a foundation degree in engineering, construction or civil engineering. Studying for these qualifications gives you a clear career path.

Some CAD technicians progress to lead a team or a section, or there may also be opportunities to become a project or site manager. As an experienced technician, registering with the Engineering Council and gaining Engineering Technician (EngTech) status could also boost your career prospects.

Top employers

Opportunities are available across the UK, from smaller firms to large corporations, and with local authorities.

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