Cadalyst AEC Tech News #130 (October 21, 2004)

20 Oct, 2004 By: Michael Dakan

Death of the CAD Drafter Position — Again

Early in July (AEC Tech News #123), I wrote about the changing requirements for CAD drafting in the architectural profession. I've written on this and similar subjects several times in the past, and I always receive considerable feedback. This time was no exception. When you say something as provocative as, "The death of CAD drafting," a lot of people — especially those whose chosen livelihood is seemingly threatened — are stirred to write.

The major difference I noticed this time around was that more than ever before, people took the time to say they agreed with me, and a couple of correspondents even went so far as to say that my premise was obvious — although perhaps not well understood. The premise I was stating was not that the need is dying out for people to do this type of work, but rather that the work is increasingly being done by a different class of employees. No longer specialists trained for a narrow range of job functions, CAD drafters today are usually young architects-in-training who have received some CAD instruction along with their professional education in architectural schools.

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CAD Expertise Isn't Enough
I heard from several people who have been trained in specialized CAD work, and they feel they should have a secure future because few young people coming out of architectural schools can match their CAD expertise. This may be true for now, but the CAD expertise advantage they enjoy is narrowing, and the young architectural graduate has other knowledge and skills in addition to CAD training that makes him or her more versatile and desirable as an employee. The recent graduate might not be a computer expert now, but can become one, and will be more than just a computer expert in the long term.

Actually, there's nothing at all unique about the situation with CAD drafters. Job requirements change all the time in all kinds of endeavors. For example, architectural firms once employed small armies of clerk-typists just to type and edit written project specifications. Far fewer typists are needed now that architects who work as specification writers more often than not do their own word processing using computers.

The Times, They are a-Changin'
The nature of architectural practice itself has changed quickly and drastically over the past several years because of the impact of CAD and other technologies. When I finished school and began practicing architecture many years ago, I could scarcely imagine that some day I would work with a computer all day to accomplish virtually everything an architect does. I certainly didn't go into architecture to operate a computer all day long — but the same can be said by many people doing different kinds of work in many fields.

Workplace experts have been saying for years that the nature of work is changing, and that the pace of change is accelerating and will continue to accelerate well into the future. Relearning and retraining in all jobs will characterize the future as procedures and methods change in response to changing technology. The days are gone when people could expect to do the same job, perhaps for the same company, for their entire working life. Most people starting out today can expect to have several different jobs doing entirely different tasks during the course of their working career.

A New Way of (Working) Life
Several months ago a correspondent on a different subject expressed resentment about the amount of time it takes outside regular working hours to constantly learn new computer hardware and software. This admittedly can be a heavy burden if your work involves a fast-changing tool like CAD, or any technology-driven software. But this is the fundamental nature of today's job requirements and a fact of life for many, if not most, jobs. What I essentially told this particular correspondent was about the only thing I could say: Get used to it.