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Job: Structural Drafter

The role: A structural drafter – also referred to as a computer aided drafting (CAD) and building information modelling (BIM) technician – is responsible for producing drawings and models for building projects. While the role once relied on pen and paper and later two-dimensional computer-generated models and blueprints, the industry now typically involves the production of 3D modelling.

“Any building, any bridge, any structure that involves structural engineering, drawings need to be produced as part of the construction documents, and a drafter would be integral in preparing those,” says Bruce McGarvie, the department leader for CAD and BIM technologies at Vancouver Community College.

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Typically employed by engineering firms, structural drafters work closely with engineering, architectural and construction teams to co-ordinate building plans and designs.

“A normal day is spent in a cubicle in an engineering office within the design team sitting behind a bank of monitors,” said Mr. McGarvie. “That’s probably 70 to 80 per cent of time, depending on the role, and they would also go to co-ordination meetings with other firms.”

Advances in technology have completely revolutionized the industry, Mr. McGarvie explains, enabling more complicated and intricate structural designs.

“They can do renderings and virtual reality where you can put on a set of goggles and walk through the model,” he said. “The engineers can input the address and do an energy analysis on how the sun will heat the building and how it impacts the UV capacity of the windows, and that’s just one example.”

Salary: According to a survey of recent graduates by Vancouver Community College, the average starting salary of a structural drafter is approximately $40,000 per year. “After about three to five years, they could expect to be in the $62,000 to $65,000 range,” Mr. McGarvie said.

The salary of more senior structural drafters can range widely, he said, depending on factors such as the employer, ongoing education, ability to manage multiple projects simultaneously and whether they can offer additional skills such as construction management, design or software engineering.

“It’s really individually based, so the average might be around $85,000, but there will be a lot of drafters with 10, 15 years experience still making $60,000, and a lot in the six-figure range,” he said.

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Education: Structural drafters are typically required to complete a college-level degree or diploma in the field, though program lengths and titles can range between institutions.

For example, B.C.’s Brighton College offers a Structural and Building Technology Diploma over 34 weeks, Saskatchewan Polytechnic offers a three-year diploma in Engineering Design and Drafting Technology, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary offers a two-year diploma in Engineering Design and Drafting Technology, and the Metro College of Technology in Toronto offers a 35-week diploma in Structural Engineering and Design Technology.

“The one that we have here at [Vancouver Community College] is a Civil and Structural Technician certificate, it’s a 10-month program, and we have a second year for students that qualify for a CAD and BIM Technician certificate,” said Mr. McGarvie.

He adds that, while a one-year certificate is sufficient for those seeking an entry-level position, the industry values continued, self-directed learning.

Job prospects: Mr. McGarvie says the construction industry in Canada is booming, and the rate of structural drafting graduates is barely able to keep up with demand. “Last year, all of our graduates had jobs before they finished,” he said.

Challenges: While technology has improved the efficiency of the process, Mr. McGarvie says that structural drafters are still challenged to keep up with ever-changing design plans that often leave them literally going back to the drawing board. “As the architects refine their design, the other supporting engineers needs to update theirs to fit, so keeping up with the fast-paced process is a challenge,” he said.

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Why they do it: Structural drafters are often drawn to the field for the opportunity to put creativity into practical use. Mr. McGarvie adds that it’s also satisfying to watch projects come to life.

Misconceptions: Mr. McGarive says that many in the industry see the role as being independent, when it’s actually interconnected with nearly every element of a construction project. “It takes a lot of collaboration within teams and between teams,” he said. “It’s not just this lone wolf stuck off in the corner working by themselves.”

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