The Four Cs of Design Engineering Education

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Welcome to Part II of our CAD Career Blog Series. Be sure to check out Part I of the series to learn more about CAD careers in high demand. Also, Part III lists the top 5 cities in the U.S. for finding a job in CAD Design. 

There are many pros and cons to seeking higher education through the traditional four-year college degree route verses a trade school curriculum. Both open the door for you to further your studies, and both offer compelling career paths. However, if you’re an upcoming high school graduate and seeking a career path with vocational skill sets, such as a Design Engineer, Electrician or Machinist, you should strongly consider trade school as an alternative option for higher education. Here’s why:

1. Curriculum

Trade schools teach skills related to a specific job, such as design fundamentals. They focus on developing particular skill sets and have a more hands-on training approach to learning. On the other hand, a four-year bachelor’s degree program requires you take unrelated classes outside of your major to fulfill credit requirements.

If you’re seeking a career path in design engineering and CAD, trade schools offer instruction in design fundamentals, sketching and CADD (computer-aided design and drafting) software. Programs vary in length and types of courses offered.

After completing the technical degree program, graduates may get jobs as drafters or continue their education in a related field at a four-year college. Most four-year colleges do not offer training in drafting, but they do offer classes in engineering, architecture and math.

2. Commitment

When it comes to time commitments, trade schools typically take two years, allowing you to enter the workforce sooner and get a two-year head start on earning income. Whereas, a bachelor’s degree typically takes four or more years of stringent study to complete.

If your high school offers a vocational career track with a focus on engineering, architectural and industrial studies, then you’re already ahead of the game when it comes to specialized training. Career track programs integrate academic and vocational instruction organized around career themes to provide work-based learning opportunities and prepare students for post-secondary education and employment. In some cases, you can even begin to earn credits towards your technical certificate, which sets you up to graduate in less than two years.

3. Cost

A bachelor’s degree or technical certification is a costly investment in your future, moneywise. A four-year degree is expensive, and the costs aren’t going down anytime soon. According to a report published by the Institute for College Access and Success in November 2014, the average amount of student loan debt for a bachelor’s degree is approaching $30,000 for public and nonprofit colleges. The average cost of trade school education, however, is significantly lower with an average amount of student loan debt around $10,000.

Students rely heavily upon private and federal loans, side jobs and other sources of income to assist with the cost of higher education – whether attending a four-year college or technical school. If your passion is in the vocational or technical realm, then trade school may be the more fiscally responsible option for you.

4. Compensation (and Job Security)

Employers seeking design engineers and CAD designers generally prefer applicants who have completed postsecondary education in drafting, typically from a technical institute. With the baby boomer generation of skilled laborers entering retirement, increasing opportunities are available for young talent. This is a promising sign for vocational students seeking future employment in design engineering or CAD design.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national wage for a drafting position is an average of $39,000 annually. Drafters can hone in on specific skill sets or industries, such as:

  • Electrical and electronics drafters – average salary $55,700
  • Mechanical drafters – average salary $50,360
  • Architectural and civil drafters – average salary $46,870
  • Drafters, all other – average salary $46,110

There are many skill centers across the United States that offer postsecondary education for design engineering and CAD design. Below are the one’s we’ve identified as viable options for you nationally and regionally:







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