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What is a CNC Machinist? Salary and Career Facts

Continue reading if you’re thinking about a profession with precise tools in a machine shop. Learn about the responsibilities of computer numerically controlled (CNC) machinists and the education needed to become one.

What is a CNC Machinist/Machining?

Many components, including those in vehicles, home appliances, computer hardware, or other machinery, can be modeled mathematically as a set of lines and curves. The process of mapping out these parts’ specifications on a computer software program and converting them into commands for a lathe, mill, or press is known as CNC machining. This procedure makes that a part is made consistently and precisely.

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What is a CNC Machinist

Important Information About This Profession

  • Median Pay: $49,940 (averagely for all types of machinists).
  • Work Environment: Machine shops and factories.
  • Key Skills: Manual dexterity, math skills, technical skills, physical stamina.
  • Similar Occupations: Welders, plastic and metal machine workers, industrial machinery mechanics, millwrights.

Job Duties and Tasks

You are in charge of setting up a machine to perform the right series of cuts as a CNC machinist. If issues are found during a test run, this can include writing programming instructions or changing a program. You can also keep an eye on the production process and repair worn-out parts.

Job Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( predicted that employment possibilities for all machinists will increase by 1% over the ten-year period from 2021 to 2031. If you are proficient with several different machine types, your employment prospects may improve. The majority of specialists in this industry were employed in the manufacturing of machinery, transportation equipment, and machine shops as of July 2023.

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Education and Training Options

Before working as a CNC machinist, you will typically need to complete some formal schooling at a trade school or community college. Introduction classes in machine shop basics, measuring techniques, math, blueprint reading, statistical process control, mechanical drawing, and CNC operations are among the certificate, diploma, and associate degree programs that are offered. Different forms of CNC programming for lathes, mills, and grinders are the main emphasis of advanced course topics.

Additionally, you might be able to get on-the-job training through an apprenticeship program at a community college or trade school. In these 4-year programs, students typically work full-time at a machine shop or manufacturing company while attending school. There may also be apprenticeship programs offered by some regionally based professional organizations.

Five Steps to Becoming a CNC Machinist

Learn how you may create exact metal parts with just an associate’s degree by becoming a machinist and operating a range of computer-controlled machines.

The next steps will show you how to become a CNC machinist.

1. Get your High School Diploma or the Equivalent.

Employers and training or educational programs demand that prospective machinists possess a high school diploma or equivalent.

These programs will accept a GED or other equivalent degree if you didn’t graduate from high school.

The subjects that will be most useful to you as a machinist are math and trade or metalworking classes.

Working in manufacturing while you are still in high school can also help you get ready to become a machinist.

2. Earn an Associate Degree

Although it isn’t technically necessary, most machinists have an associate’s degree.

Learning the skills necessary to become a machinist quickly and effectively involves enrolling in a two-year associate program.

If you want to advance to higher-paying managerial positions, having an associate degree is also beneficial.

Typical course offerings in associate degree programs include:

  • Technical drawing
  • Design specifications
  • Computer-aided machining
  • Blueprint reading
  • Manufacturing mathematics
  • Metalworking

3. Complete on-the-job Training

More than any academic study, becoming a machinist involves years of practical experience.

Some machinists choose to enroll in a formal apprenticeship program that combines in-class instruction with on-the-job training.

Apprenticeship programs are frequently provided by regional union chapters, although they can also be found at some trade schools.

Additionally, high-level security clearances are frequently required of machinists employed by military contractors.

4. Obtain Optional Certification

The National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) provides machinists in various businesses with 20 distinct certifications.

Your area of specialization and the sector you operate in will determine which certification is best for you.

You must first successfully complete a written exam and a skills test in order to receive a NIMS certification.

Although NIMS certification is not degree-required, there are trade school programs that are especially made to get you ready for the tests.

5. Become a Master Machinist

A master machinist is an authority on CNC machine tools and is able to deliver dependable, premium work.

Master machinists usually have years of expertise and frequently instruct their own trainees in the craft.

Although they are not necessary, certificate and associate degree programs are available to help you become a master machinist.

A master machinist often has more than ten years of professional experience, as well as training or mentoring experience.

Also Read: Best Mechanical Engineering Schools in Illinois

What is a CNC Machinist

Why Study Machining?

The expanding use of CNC technology holds the key to the solution.

Operators can program a series of operations into a machine that has computer numerical control, or CNC. Those instructions can be as detailed and intricate as needed and are highly exact. Manufacturing businesses can employ CNC machine tools to automate and streamline their manufacturing processes as opposed to manual machining.

With CNC equipment, skilled operators may manage many machines and operations simultaneously. Additionally, whereas traditional machinist positions don’t typically pay very well, CNC machinists might earn significantly more each year.

CNC technology can be added to almost any machine tool. The list doesn’t end with lathes, CNC mills, and routers. A qualified CNC operator won’t ever be short of possible tools because the technology behind machine tools like grinders, EDMs, and 3D printers is comparable.

Beginners who are just getting started with CNC machining are always urged to learn by doing because a solid internship or training program in the real world is difficult to beat. To better comprehend some of the mechanics of machining, however, formal classroom instruction is also required. A future machinist can learn more about how metals function and how they react to various cutting processes by taking metallurgy classes.

Six Excellent Machine Tool Programs

In the United States, there are numerous institutions and universities that provide machinist training. These courses are frequently provided as metallurgy, machine tool technology, and, of course, CNC certification courses.

It is practically impossible to decide which course is clearly the best. So, here are a few well-liked and respected possibilities as well as two additional strange yet excellent choices. The ultimate objective in each situation is to prepare aspiring machinists to locate the greatest CNC machinist positions accessible.

It’s important to note that almost all of these programs have very low entry requirements, typically simply a basic high school diploma.

1. University of Cincinnati

It makes perfect sense that a renowned machine tool technology program would be located in a city in the center of America—and American industry. As one of the top 200 institutions in the USA, the university enjoys a stellar reputation.

The course at the University of California emphasizes knowledge of typical machine tools and the fundamentals of mechanical engineering. Graduates will be prepared to work in a variety of industries, including aerospace and automotive.

2. Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology

A 19th-century leader from Pennsylvania named Thaddeus Stevens made significant investments in the workforce’s education. This legacy continues in the institution that bears his name, where the focus is still on educating and preparing workers to seek meaningful and fulfilling jobs.

The school’s Computer Integrated Machining curriculum equips students with the skills necessary to operate cutting-edge technology in addition to teaching them the fundamentals of operating common machine tools. That covers CNC, Computer Assisted Design (CAD/CAM), and several other pertinent processes that are frequently used in today’s high-end manufacturing industry. Pennsylvania, a longtime leader in American manufacturing and industry, is where Thaddeus Stevens College is located.

3. Lake Area Technical College

Several industries that still rely on the abilities of skilled machinists to succeed in modern marketplaces are found in the American West. One institution committed to providing a qualified workforce of modern machinists to fill that requirement is Lake Area Technical College.

The Precision Machining E-Degree is their signature program. The machining e-degree is a hybrid degree that combines in-person instruction with online learning. It is suitable for both young machinists and working adults who may want to further their education. It’s also ideal for those looking to enter a different area while keeping their existing career.

In order to ensure that students graduate from the program with more than simply a theoretical understanding, the e-degree does not scrimp on practical instruction. This includes instruction on using CNC lathes and all the knowledge required to become a proficient CNC programmer.

4. Rochester Institute of Technology

Although it may not seem like it, New York used to be the hub of American manufacturing, at least historically. Many of the industries that helped to build America were based in New England as a whole, and many of the institutions and training facilities that were established to aid in those efforts are still in operation today.

The Rochester Institute of Technology perfectly meets that description. RIT aspires to educate students more than simply the fundamentals of machining by providing a state-of-the-art machine tool facility. Both mechanical engineering degrees and a whole center devoted to contemporary manufacturing solutions are available.

5. Pasadena City College

American businesses require workers who are properly prepared to manage the technologies found in contemporary manufacturing solutions from coast to coast. Pasadena City College provides a degree in Machine Shop Technology for workers on the west coast.

Students who complete the degree are fully qualified CNC machine operators who can operate all typical CNC equipment. To further personalize a student’s approach and skill set, the degree offers courses and certifications.

Since the university is situated in Pasadena, adjacent to important Californian cities and industrial centers, students can complete their degrees in the heart of a flourishing market.

6. Your Local Community College

There is probably a technical school or community college close to where you reside in the United States. A number of the schools on the list above are just local community schools with exceptional programs. Even so, the majority of community colleges provide some kind of entry-level certification or fundamental mechanical engineering degree. They are also typically relatively affordable and local, which are benefits. Those aspects may very well end up being deciding for prospective machinists.

How to Select a CNC Machining School

When selecting a program in this area, there are a lot of factors to take into account.

To obtain real-world experience, look for programs that offer internships and opportunities for hands-on training.

It is recommended that aspiring CNC machinists enroll in programs that provide modern on-campus lab spaces with appropriate equipment for operation instruction, including lathe and milling machines.

Consider which program is best for your individual goals as outcomes range from a short- or long-term certificate to an associate’s degree.

Verify that each school’s program has a high percentage of graduates who are successfully employed in their field by looking at the job histories of those who have graduated from it.

What is a CNC Machinist

Frequently Asked Questions

Which degree is ideal for machinists?

Welding, machine tool, machine shop, sheet metal, tool & die, metal fabrication, and/or computer numerically controlled (CNC) operation are among the programs that may be offered.

Is a career in CNC a good fit?

Working with cutting-edge equipment every day is never boring, and being able to do it year-round indoors is a major benefit. The fact that CNC machinery is highly specialized equipment and needs training to operate makes it a strong career choice.

How much time does it take to become a machine operator?

The entire training process for machinists lasts for around four to five years. Although trade colleges also offer machining degrees, it is typical for machinists to receive their training on the job. Machine operators often simply need a GED or high school diploma.


Most machinists have an associate’s degree and use computerized measuring equipment and metalworking. Follow these instructions carefully to begin a career as a machinist.



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