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Inside a CAD Career in the Oil & Gas Industry

To come up with their process plants, equipment or infrastructure, oil and gas companies need well-trained professionals who can visualize and design them. This is typically the domain of people who pursue careers in computer-aided design, which is more commonly known by its acronym: CAD. True to the designation, CAD designers rely on computer systems and software for fulfilling design requests from oil and gas companies.



The CAD profession took off in the latter half of the 20th century, when computerization steadily replaced hand-drawn blueprints or documentation. Using computers makes design quicker, more accurate and visually appealing, and closer to real-world construction. Currently, the best-known software used by CAD designers in the oil and gas industry is the AutoCAD product line from California-based computer software company AutoDesk, Inc., which was founded in 1982. Other prominent CAD software brands include SmartPlant 3D from Intergraph and Solid Edge from Siemens.


Education and Training

The minimal educational level for aspiring CAD designers is the Associate of Science (A.S.) degree in Computer Aided Drafting, which can be completed in two years. The A.S. degree is usually available at community colleges and technical institutes. For more advanced training and increase in earning potential, there’s the Bachelor of Science degree in CAD, a four-year program offered at colleges and universities. Not all places of higher education offer CAD programs. However, those who are interested in CAD can compensate with courses in subject areas such as engineering, architecture, mathematics and computer science.



People in school for CAD careers in oil and gas usually have to choose between two concentrations: mechanical and architectural. Mechanical drafting focuses on the way things work; this specialty is perfect for students who enjoy a lot of hands-on work with machines or mechanical components such as engines, motors, and cars. Mechanical drafters design and build parts of a machine or mechanical process, and with the oil and gas industry in particular, they design and build the drill heads or containment units. Architectural drafters are trained to have a more holistic approach. Thus their focus is on how everything comes together to accomplish certain goals. Architectural drafters are usually involved with the pre- and post-drilling phases of oil and gas operations.



According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for CAD designers is around $49,630. Mechanical drafters are the second highest earners in the industry, with a median yearly wage of around $50,360. Architectural drafters are not that far behind in third place, taking home $47,870. In 2013, those numbers increased to $51,520 for mechanical drafters and $48,800 for architectural drafters.


Job Outlook

The BLS does not expect a significant amount of change in the employment of CAD designers between 2012 and 2022. In fact, employment of mechanical drafters in particular is expected to decline by 5 percent during that time period. The number of architectural drafters, on the other hand, might grow by at least 1 percent. The BLS theorizes that the continued need for designers who are trained in using computer tools would drive employment growth rates. Most of such growth might come from sectors like oil and gas, where efficiency and accuracy is of utmost importance.

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