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Matt Wells

How Important Are 3D Cad Qualifications?

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I wanted to share my recent article on the need to get 3D CAD qualifications - would love to hear your thoughts


The following article was first published on DEVELOP3D on 3rd May 2011


As competition for jobs mounts up it’s no surprise that it’s skills that catch the eye, but if your 3D CAD qualifications are lacking does it mean the end of the road?


As redundancies have seen talented designers and engineers thrown out from their comfortable lives where 2D was the norm, many are now becoming worried about how they’ll cope in a changing world.


We tracked down a mixture of designers, CAD training agencies as well as employers to find out what they believe is the best way to get ahead.


The Training Agency


Responsible for training thousands of designers and engineers across the country, Solid Solutions offers around 20 different training courses in SolidWorks that last from a couple of days to over a month’s worth.


Training manager Adam Hartles admits that the longer courses can get very expensive, but explains that the majority of people can get what they need through its Essentials Course. “We’d always recommend our Essentials Course because although we market it as a basic course it’s a very broad skill set that you end up with: It covers a lot of the SolidWorks products,” explains Hartles.


“It can be quite intense, but they go away with a handbook and contact details for them to get back in touch as well.


“What it teaches is not only how to use the software, but how to use it correctly - so it’s best practice and best principles - if people are aware of the fundamentals of the software then they can generally work their way through the more advanced stuff.”


Training is widely available from most CAD vendors, and as Hartles points out, at courses there’s usually 10 to 15 people around at any time from different companies where networking at such events has been known to open doors for jobseekers.


The re-educated designer


Darren Fenton is now the head designer at Outsource CAD, specialising in taking on freelance design projects. At 30 years-old he’s not immediately recognisable as the older generation struggling to grasp 3D design, but instead found himself leaving university armed only with 2D methods in a profession rapidly moving forward.


“You were realising that 2D was over and that everyone wants 3D for engineering projects so they can see spatially how things fit, rather than 2D flat images,” says Fenton, like many, obviously aggrieved that a degree had left him a step behind the profession he was moving into.

Since then he has upgraded his skills to encompass product design, engineering and architectural projects, primarily through self-tuition.

“I had a couple of days on a training course, but the vast majority was on the job training; doing tutorials and teaching yourself at night time. The two day training course was enough to give you a helping start, but the vast majority has been training myself through jobs - everybody uses a different 3D package, and every package runs differently.”


It all comes down to one thing: “You can charge more for 3D! Let’s face it, there are a lot of people out there that can do 2D design, but there are probably less that can do 3D.”


Although a training course gave him the basics, he turned to books for step-by-step guides in order to develop his knowledge.


The big employer


Last year Dyson set about doubling the size of its design and engineering departments by recruiting 220 people. This year they are aiming to recruit around 150 more [several of the positions have been advertised on DEVELOP3D Jobs.


Ninety of last year’s recruits were graduates kitted out with the latest CAD skills, but a similar number were reliant more on experience than 3D skills.


“The 3D aspect is only a very small part of what we do,” states Steven Morris, Dyson’s HR and resource advisor. “We take on many people in the latter stages of their career who have excellent mechanical knowledge, for example, and maybe need to be brought up to speed from a 3D perspective.


3D CAD is no longer the tool of the future, but of right now - an intricate cog in the product design lifecycle


“We try and see the potential in every individual that we interview, recognise their strengths and weaknesses, and work with them from a performance perspective to make sure they have the skills to draw upon to be effective within Dyson,” concludes Morris

With its own training centre and specialist in-house CAD trainer, Dyson is a massive company expanding rapidly: not a completely realistic picture of what’s happening elsewhere.


The baby boomer


Mamas & Papas is a global brand specialising in prams, highchairs and all things baby-related, and has recently taken a large section of its design and engineering in-house. Despite the company’s growth it, like many others, has 3D modelling experience as key to candidate criteria.


“We would struggle to bring somebody in without a 3D background,” reveals head of design Richard Shaw.


This sits at the head of Mamas & Papas trend of taking on and nurturing graduate talent. “The whole 3D side of design has evolved over the last ten years, and pretty much every graduate has that as part of their core skills.


“Once you’ve got that foundation it’s relatively easy to build that up quickly, but to bring someone on without those skills initially is a big risk for a business.”


Original design and manufacturing product development manager, Ben Hardman, adds: “It’s always more about the person than the package that they’re using - but in this day and age, it’s pretty much a prerequisite for the job. It does affect your ability to fit into a team and a business.”




As many of you are finding out: 3D CAD is no longer the tool of the future, but of right now - an intricate cog in the product design lifecycle. Without it a designer or engineer is going to struggle.


Learning these skills is going to have its costs, both time and financial - it’s an inevitable step, regardless of how much you invest in it, if you’re searching for new employment.

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I think CAD is important for the day to day running of a studio but a lot of ideation and conceptual work is still paper based. Its just one more tool that is needed but how important it is depends entirely on the organisation. Also with no definitive CAD packaged graduates must be able to easily and quickly adapt. A lot of students are leaving with CAD knowledge that is less relevant than it should be without the core design skills that are needed to undertake a project. Its all a balancing act, as so much of design is.

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