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Machinist Careers, Jobs, and Employment Information

Machinist Career and Job Highlights

  • Machinists are educated through vocational and high schools, community colleges, or through experience as apprentices or on the job training.
  • Lots of applicants have prior experience as machine setters, operators, or tenders.
  • Great job prospects are projected for applicants

Machinist Career Overview and Description

As part of their job, machinists make precision metal parts utilizing machine tools like lathes, milling machines, and machining centers. Normally parts will be made in large volumes, but precision machinists also make small quantities of unique or special parts. In order to make products that hold to strict specs, machinist must rely on their knowledge and understanding of the metals’ properties while utilizing their skills and abilities in combination with machine tools.

The first step in machining a part is planning and preparing for operation. Machinists look over blueprints and specifications. Then they plan out where they must cut or bore the metal they are working with, how quickly the metal needs to be fed in the machine, and how much metal needs to be removed. Then they decide which tools and goods will be used for the job, map out the steps of cutting and finishing operations, and make marks on the metal to outline where they will make cuts.

Once the process has been completely planned out, a machinist can then begin to perform the job. Metal stock must be positioned properly on the machine tool, whether it be a drill press, milling machine, or lathe, and then set the proper controls and begin cutting. Throughout this process machinists must ensure that machine is being fed the metal stock at the proper rate and that machine is running at the desired speed. Since the machining process creates a lot of heat, machinists must also make sure that the piece is adequately lubricated and cooled. Since metals tend to expand when hot, the temperature of the metals is very important to the machinist, and the machinist must make adjustments to their cuts as changes in temperature occur. Metals like titanium, which is very rare but gaining popularity nonetheless, is worked on at very hot temperature levels.

A few problems in the machining process can be identified through listening, such as a dull cutting tool or too much vibration. Cutting tools that become dull must be replaced. When harmonic vibrations occur cutting speeds must be adjusted since these vibrations can cause inaccurate cuts to be made especially on high-speed spindles and lathes. Once the part has been machined, it is checked and measured with both simple and complicated tools to ensure it meets the necessary specifications.

Production machinists work primarily in the production of large volumes of one single part, particularly parts that require strict adherence to specs and involve many complicated operations. A lot of new machine tools are computer numerically controlled (CNC). Quite often machinists and computer-control programmers work hand in hand to set up the cutting sequence performed by automated machines. Machinists will decide what cutting tool is used and the speed at which it is made, as well as the feed rate while the programmer is in charge of setting up the path the cut will follow. Since quite a few machinists have some CNC programming training, they might set up their own basic programs or adjust programs as needed when making test cuts. Once the whole machining process is setup and ready to go, routine procedures will be carried out by machine setters, operators, and tenders.

Some machine tools can run without any manual help thanks to the full automation of parts loaders, automatic tool changers, and computer controls. A typical 8 hour day for a single production machinist could involve the monitoring of devices, replacing of dull cutting tools, checking the precision of finished goods as well work on other CNC machines that run 24 hours, known as lights-out manufacturing. Lights-out manufacturing can be achieved with only few machinists on hand to run the entire facility.

Some machinists perform maintenance, such as repairing or creating new components for old machinery. The reparation of faulty parts might require machinists to read blueprints and carry out the same operations need to produce the original part.

Machinist Training and Job Qualifications

Training for machinists can be obtained through apprenticeship programs, informal on the job training, or instruction in high schools, vocational schools, or community or technical colleges. As always, experience with machine tools is useful. Most applicants have prior experience working as machine setters, operators, or tenders. Those who have an interest in being machinist should possess mechanical aptitude, be a good problem solver, and have the ability to work alone as well as the ability to work with extreme precision and accuracy while requiring high concentration and physical expenditures.

Applicants are strongly advised to obtain a solid foundation through high school classes or vocational school courses in mathematics, particularly trigonometry, blueprint reading, metalworking, and drafting. There are 4 year apprenticeship programs that can provide shop training and in class education to potential employees. During the training process provided to apprentices, they will work full time in the shop, receiving instruction and guidance from other machinists with experience as the apprentice learns how to work a variety of tools. They are taught the principles of math, physics, materials science, blueprint reading, mechanical drawing, as well as quality and safety techniques in the classroom. Learning how to operate and program CNC machine tools has also become more important since an increasing number of shops are utilizing computerized equipment. Community colleges and vocational schools help teach courses for those attending apprenticeship programs. Many machinists acquire the appropriate knowledge and skills by attending community or technical colleges where they can obtain an associate’s degree in just two years. However, after graduation from such programs is important that machinist acquire on the job training to become completely competent in the field.

More and more colleges and training programs are developing courses that include the nation’s skills standards designed by the National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS) in order to enhance the skill set of machinists and develop uniform standards for fully qualified workers. Trainees can receive a NIMS certificate, which certifies they are a qualified metal worker, by completing the required courses and successfully completing a performance exam and written test. Receiving such credentials can help elevate the status of a machinist and open up new job prospects.

As new automated methods are implemented, machinists typically must obtain more training to improve their skills and keep up with the changes. Often times manufacturer representatives or technical school professors will provide this instruction and training. Certain organizations will reimburse employees for tuition expenses related to continuous education and training courses.

There many different ways for a machinist to be promoted. Machinists can receive promotions to supervisor or administrator, or they can become CNC programmers, tool and die makers or mold makers. Some will start their own business.

Machinist Job and Employment Opportunities

In spite the slow projected growth rate of employment, machinists’ prospects should be great. Some of the potential applicants qualified for such positions will choose to go to college or not want to work in production. As a result of this and the likelihood of retirement and transfers, there is expected to be fewer qualified machinists than there are number of positions available.

The growth rate in employment is not expected to rise faster than the average through 2012 since workers are expected to be more productive in coming years. Thanks to new innovations and improvements in CNC machine tools, autoloaders, and high-speed machining machinists are expected to increase their efficiency and productivity. Thus, fewer workers will be able to do the same work accomplished by more people before. Since machinists are in charge of monitoring and maintaining fully automated equipment, the technological improvements made in this field are not expected to hinder the growth in employment as much as other jobs in manufacturing. Many employers favor workers that are highly skilled, like machinists, since they have possess many different skills and can work on pretty much every task in the facility.

Economic cycles certainly affect the level of employment in this industry. For instance, when the need for machined goods is on the decline, production machinists will have their hours reduced or be laid off all together. Machinists that carry out maintenance and service tasks should expect more stable employment since the services they perform are vital to operation of production plants even when less is being manufactured.

Historical Earnings Information

Machinists made about $15.66 an hour in 2002. The middle 50 percent made anywhere from $12.15 to $19.45. The bottom 10 percent made less than $9.57, while the highest 10 percent made upwards of $23.17.