Computer-aided design (CAD) technicians use their engineering, IT and mathematical knowledge and skills to design buildings, machinery, products and parts

A CAD technician, also known as a draughtsperson, uses CAD software to create technical drawings and plans - also known as draughting - for products and parts used in the engineering, construction and manufacturing industries.

You'll work with architects and design engineers to understand the requirements of their initial designs and turn them into accurate and detailed technical drawings in 2D and 3D models. These drawings are used at all stages of a project, from estimating cost and feasibility to creating the blueprints for manufacturing and instructions for installation.

If you're interested in CAD, you may also be interested in more specialised areas where it's used in other industries such as computer-aided industrial design (CAID), computer-aided engineering (CAE), computer-aided styling (CAS) and computer-aided manufacturing design (CAM).

Other related job titles include:

  • design technician
  • building information modelling (BIM) technician
  • architectural technician
  • graphic designer
  • product designer
  • engineering or industrial designer
  • building services technician.

Types of work

CAD technicians usually work in engineering, manufacturing and construction industries and specialise in a certain technical field, such as mechanical, electrical, structural, control and instrumentation or piping design.

You'll also be able to use CAD skills in a range of creative industry jobs, such as set and interior design.

Responsibilities

As a CAD technician/draughtsperson, you'll need to:

  • create high-quality detailed technical drawings and plans based on designs supplied by architects and designers and make modifications to existing drawings
  • use a variety of CAD software programmes to create designs in 2D and 3D models
  • liaise with architects, engineers and designers to understand their design requirements and provide technical advice to manufacturing and construction technicians
  • provide accurate, detailed and to scale drawings
  • ensure drawings are compliant with industry and health and safety standards and protocols
  • calculate costs and apply knowledge of materials and engineering principles to check feasibility of manufacture and construction of the product
  • conduct site visits and surveys when required
  • present working drawings for use in all stages of the project, tender, manufacture/construction and installation
  • produce installation and manufacturing documentation
  • maintain accurate records.

Salary

Salaries depend on location, employer and level of experience.

  • Starting salaries for CAD technicians are in the region of £14,600 to £20,000.
  • With experience, this can rise to between £20,000 and £35,000.
  • Senior or chartered CAD technicians can earn £35,000 to £50,000.

Income figures from Go Construct. Figures are intended as a guide only.

According to the 2017 ONS Labour Forces Survey, the mean salary for CAD technicians and draughtspersons in the UK is approximately £30,000.

Working hours

Working hours are typically 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, but longer hours and overtime may be required to meet project deadlines.

Opportunities for freelance work are available.

What to expect

  • CAD technicians are mainly office-based and can spend long hours at a computer or drawing desk requiring periods of concentration.
  • Not all the work is individual and you could be working with a team of other technicians or architects, contractors or design engineers.
  • You'll typically have to meet with clients and designers to understand their requirements for a design. You could also be providing technical advice to designers, manufacturers on shop floors and engineers on construction sites.
  • Depending on the industry and the role, you may be required to visit building sites or manufacturing facilities. You could be based in a construction site office for the duration of a project.
  • Work is project based and can involve working to tight deadlines and providing updates or changes to plans last minute. You may also be required to work on multiple projects at once.

Qualifications

You can become a CAD technician through a relevant degree, college course or apprenticeship.  

A degree is not a prerequisite for entry to a CAD technician/draughtsperson role but it can provide relevant engineering and technical knowledge.  Relevant degrees include all engineering disciplines, architecture, manufacturing, IT and design.

Graduates can find entry-level roles as a CAD technician/draughtsperson to gain industry experience before progressing to other engineering roles such as design engineer, civil engineer and architectural professions.

The main route to becoming a CAD technician is to do an apprenticeship or advanced apprenticeship with an employer in engineering design and draughting or computer-aided design.

As an apprentice you'll have the opportunity to study for qualification while gaining work-based experience and training with an employer.  Minimum academic requirements for apprenticeships are usually 5 GCSEs at grade A* to C (or equivalent) including English, maths and a technical subject. Search for apprenticeships.

Alternatively you could complete a higher-level qualification, such as a BTEC or HND course in computer-aided design.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • knowledge of engineering principles and ability to create and read technical drawings
  • IT skills and experience using computer-aided design software such as Autocad and Solidworks
  • the ability to transfer, display and manipulate your work using Microsoft Office and other programmes
  • attention to detail to create accurate and detailed drawings and check other colleagues' work for accuracy and quality
  • communication skills and relationship building to work with clients and other engineers and architects to understand and interpret their designs
  • team work - essential to be able to work in a team as you'll be liaising with other CAD technicians and draughtspersons on projects
  • organisation and time management to complete work to project deadlines
  • a flexible approach to decision making, to make changes to drawings at short notice
  • mathematical skills to complete calculations and estimates
  • spatial and design skills to be able to visualise projects in 2D and 3D
  • problem solving, creativity and innovation in order to come up with solutions to design problems
  • knowledge of health and safety requirements in order to design in line with industry standards.

Technical drawing is now almost exclusively done using CAD software, but freehand drawing skills and the use of draughting tools may still come in useful for some roles.

Work experience

Employers usually require relevant engineering knowledge and experience of using CAD software.

Large engineering and construction companies offer summer placements and year-in-industry placements to students on relevant degree programmes. These can provide industry experience and give you opportunities to use computer-aided design software on real-life projects.

Apprenticeships offer on-the-job training with employers and a chance to gain industry experience alongside working towards a qualification.

Any opportunities to work shadow and gain industry experience and using computer-aided design software will help towards getting a role.

If you're studying a relevant technical degree, there may be opportunities to develop skills and knowledge of using CAD software such as AutoCAD and Solidworks through academic modules.

You can learn the basics of using this software through free online tutorials and courses.

Employers

CAD technicians usually work in the manufacturing, engineering and construction industries, but are also found in a range of other industries where parts or products are designed or manufactured.

Large civil engineering, construction or manufacturing companies usually have an in-house design or drawing office, or you could work for a specialist drafting or design company that provides CAD drawing services to other industries.

Typical employers are:

  • civil engineering and construction companies
  • architectural practices
  • aerospace companies
  • automotive manufacturers
  • broadcasting and telecommunications
  • utilities companies
  • electrical and electronic engineering companies
  • the government
  • consumer goods manufacturers
  • oil and gas providers.

Look for vacancies on engineering job boards such as:

Specialist engineering, construction and manufacturing recruitment agencies will also advertise CAD technician and draughtsperson jobs.

Professional development

Experienced CAD technicians and draughtspersons can apply for professional registration as an EngTech with the Engineering Council. Achieving EngTech status demonstrates that you have the required technical skills, ability and commitment to professional standards.

To apply for EngTech accreditation, you'll first need to become a member of the relevant engineering institution. You can find a complete list on the Engineering Council website.

Then you can apply to have your qualifications, training and experience assessed in line with The UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC).

Gaining professional registration can lead to higher earning potential and wider career opportunities.

After you've achieved EngTech status, you could progress to Incorporated Engineer. Graduates with a relevant degree could go on to achieve professional accreditation with Chartered Engineer status.

It's essential for CAD technicians to keep up to date with the latest design software relevant for the industry. There are usually plenty of opportunities to learn how to use new and advanced CAD software as part of continuing professional development (CPD) with employers.

Career prospects

Newly qualified and junior CAD technicians may initially work on small projects, making revisions to existing drawings or converting archive drawings from paper to computer. After gaining experience, your role may develop and allow you to be more involved in the design process and work on larger projects.

Junior CAD technicians can progress to senior CAD technician roles, which can involve managing a team of technicians, overseeing work in the design office and overall project management.

Apprenticeship and college routes can lead to taking further qualifications at degree level in a related field, such as civil engineering, and gaining EngTech status.

Graduates who gain experience as a CAD technician can progress to other roles, such as design engineer and civil engineer.