As a professional engineer or CAD technician, it’s important to keep your skills honed. By continuously learning new modeling and evaluation techniques, users can become more productive and innovative in tackling design challenges.
But once an engineering challenge has been solved, how can a designer ensure that their ingenuity and proficiency with the software will be recognized? For that matter, how can team leaders identify standout designers on their teams?
One of the best ways to satisfy both of these issues is to become a certified CAD user.
As one of the most widely used MCAD packages on the planet, SOLIDWORKS is an excellent example of how certification can distinguish a standout designer or design engineer from the rest of the crowd. Dassault Systèmes currently offers 13 different certification exams covering skill levels from associate to expert and several advanced topic exams (Surfacing, Weldments, Mold Tools, Sheet Metal and Drawing Tools) that single out skillsets.
Though Dassault maintains a wide range of tests that cover skill levels from beginner to expert, the three most import exams are the Associate, Professional and Expert exams (the last also requires passing four of the five individual advanced topic exams).
The SOLIDWORKS Associate exam (CSWA) is the starting point for many CAD high school or college students who are looking to prove to employers that they can walk into a job and be productive on day one. The CSWA is a practical test (like all SOLIDWORKS professional certification exams) that covers 3D modeling, design concepts and sustainable design over the course of three hours.
As a testament to the quality of the tests, entire states, and even a country, have mandated the use of these exams for all the students studying CAD in their universities. Mike Puckett, senior manager of the SOLIDWORKS certification program, points to Ireland and Florida as examples.
To pass the CSWA, users must achieve a score of 70 percent. Dassault claims that some 65 percent of those who take the exam pass and that 102,127 students have completed their CSWA certification.
When a user feels that their professional career could be enhanced with a higher level of CAD certification, Dassault offers the Certified SOLIDWORKS Professional program (CSWP). Over the course of 3.5 hours, the CSWP exam tests your ability to create parts from drawings; edit equations, parameters and feature order and create assemblies, among a variety of other skills.
Unlike the CSWA, the CSWP is split up into three segments, each of which can be taken separately. To pass the CSWP, users need to score at least 75 percent on each segment of the exam. Not surprisingly, professional users who take the CSWP have a higher passing rate than CSWA examinees, with 74 percent gaining certification. In fact, across the globe there are 32,328 CSWPs, each of which is likely master of their CAD domain.
Expert Certification — The Few and the Proud
Finally, the most daunting test in the SOLIDWORKS certification program is the Expert exam (CSWE). To achieve the level of SOLIDWORKS Expert, users must have already obtained a CSWP certification and have also completed four of the five individual advanced topics exams.
Each advanced topic exam lasts 90-minutes and is an exhaustive examination of a special topic within SOLIDWORKS. To pass a special topics exam, users must answer 75 percent of the questions correctly.
After completing the five prerequisite tests for the CSWE, users are challenged by a test that’s not only comprehensive, but also has a little mystery. Unlike all other SOLIDWORKS exams, the CSWE has no practice test available that provides insight as to which topics might be covered. Examinees walking into the CSWE will need to be ready for anything.
To pass the CSWE exam, users must answer 85 percent of the test correctly. Oh, and just as a way of illustrating how challenging the CSWE is, Puckett mentioned that across the globe only 2,339 SOLIDWORKS users have managed to earn Expert certification. That’s only two percent of the total number of people with a SOLIDWORKS certification (over 110,000).
So, What’s Certification Mean in the Real World?
With SOLIDWORKS offering opportunities to validate your CAD skills across the entire trajectory of your career, one might wonder whether certification translates into a higher salary, more job opportunities or even just the comfort of job security. While SOLIDWORKS does not research users’ employability or salaries before and after testing, Puckett offers Disney as an example of a company that places quite an emphasis on SOLIDWORKS and certification.
Disney Parks and Resorts is one of SOLIDWORKS’ showcase customers. According to those who do the hiring over at Disney, SOLIDWORKS certification won’t necessarily guarantee you a job, but it will land you an interview. In a competitive job market where engineers and CAD techs are vying for the most interesting and cutting edge jobs, getting your foot in the door at a company that’s as innovative as Disney says a lot about the certification exams.
Though I’ve outlined the value that SOLIDWORKS certification, or for that matter, any CAD certification provides, there will still be cynical engineers out there arguing that certification programs amount to nothing more than a revenue stream that provides little to the end user.
For anyone with that opinion, I suggest you turn up at SOLIDWORKS World or any other user conference. There you’ll find the greatest concentration of certified users that you could ever assemble. Chat those folks up, and ask them their opinions about certification. Your concerns should wither quickly.
But if that’s not proof enough, do what I did. Give Mike Puckett a call. Not only is Mike in charge of SOLIDWORKS certification, he’s also actively invested in it. After speaking with him for an hour, I was convinced in the value of the program. I think you’ll find the same thing.
Taking and Purchasing an Exam
SOLIDWORKS certification exams can be taken from any computer that hosts a seat of SOLIDWORKS 2009 or greater. The test is administered online in a secure client window separate from the core software. The SOLIDWORKS Associate exam runs $99, the Professional $99 and the expert exam will cost $149. Individual topic exams cost $19.95. If you fail an exam, it can be retaken but only after an exam specific waiting period has elapsed, usually 14-30 days.
About the Author
Kyle Maxey is a mechanical designer and writer from Austin, TX. He earned a degree in Film at Bard College and has since studied Mechanical and Architectural drafting at Austin Community College. As a designer Kyle has had vast experience with CAD software and rapid prototyping. One day he dreams of becoming a toy designer.