How To Become A CNC Machinist: A Comprehensive Guide

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 5 March 2023

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines are critical in the operations of the manufacturing industry. These machines cut, shape and process raw materials into finished products, and they require the input and operational skills of CNC machinists to function optimally. If you have a strong desire to work in technology and design, and a passion for precise, complex tasks, a career as a CNC machinist may be the right path for you. In this article, we discuss what a CNC machinist does, how to become a CNC machinist, how much they make on average and their job outlook.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

What Is A CNC Machinist?

Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machinists design, set up and operate different kinds of CNC equipment and machines. They are exceptionally skilled professionals who combine elements of research, mechanical design, technical drawing, mathematics and programming skills in a professional space to create tools and products. A skilled CNC machinist may track and monitor each product through every phase of its design and creation.

CNC machinists are highly sought-after professionals, because the production of tools and other parts increasingly relies on computer programs nowadays. They are responsible for the setup and operation of CNC machinery, which is heavy machinery that is designed for the production of both plastic and metal components. They may also inspect the final product, ensure that it is free from defects and approve that the products are ready for the market or the next production stage. Automotive, aerospace and power and manufacturing are a few industries where CNC machinists perform instrumental work.

Related: What Does A CNC Operator Do? Career, Skills And Salary

How To Become A CNC Machinist

The job of a CNC machinist is highly technical and requires intensive training and preparation to master. To become a CNC machinist, you may either take an academic route or pursue vocational training. Here are some steps you can follow to learn how to become a CNC machinist:

1. Research the duties of a CNC machinist

There are different machinist jobs. If you are looking to pursue a career as a CNC machinist, knowing the specific career path you want to take is important. You may also want to ensure that you have or are interested in learning the required skills for the job. Knowing what type of job is most interesting to you can enable you to make the right decision on what combination of courses to pursue. Typically, there are three types of CNC machinists:

  • Operating machinists: The primary duty of an operating machinist is to ensure the optimal functioning of machines.

  • Set-up machinists: Set-up machinists are responsible for monitoring the equipment, making adjustments and performing other tasks to ensure flawless manufacturing operations.

  • Programming machinists: Programming machinists specialise in coding for CNC systems and updating existing programmes to produce parts that meet a set of prescribed specifications.

Related: What Is A CNC Programmer? (Duties, Skills And Qualifications)

2. Take preparatory courses

A high school diploma is usually the minimum requirement to seek employment as a CNC machinist. You may consider pursuing a post-secondary CNC machinist programme after high school. This programme includes lessons in structured classrooms and practical training modules. Blueprint reading, technical drafting, machine tooling and metalworking are a few areas you can pursue courses in to prepare yourself for a CNC machinist training programme. You can also brush up on your algebra and trigonometry knowledge to enhance your visibility among other applicants.

3. Pursue a formal degree

While a professional degree is not a must-have qualification to work as a CNC machinist, most employers prefer to hire someone with a degree. If you opt for a certificate, it only takes a few months to learn basic skills such as measurement, inspection and blueprint reading. Technical colleges offer full CNC machinist degree programmes and they typically take two academic years to complete. These programmes provide educational classes and industry-specific courses to prepare students for the job market. Educational programmes cover subjects such as engineering, maths and computer technology. You may also learn about CAD/CAM and design technology.

Related: A Guide On NTC Certificate And How To Get One (With FAQs)

4. Complete a formal apprenticeship

Becoming an excellent machinist takes time and intensive on-the-job training. Formal apprenticeships allow you to gain hands-on training and experience. An apprenticeship is an entry-level program that lasts up to four years, depending on your previous training and interest. In an apprenticeship, you may apply theoretical knowledge from classroom sessions to a practical environment to guide the hands-on experience of operating actual machines. Some of the skills and lessons learned in an apprenticeship program are:

  • Safety practices

  • Basics of CNC machine operation

  • Metallurgy

  • Computer-Aided Design (CAD)

  • CNC programming

It is important to note that most employers seeking to hire CNC machinists may look at whether a candidate has previous experience in the field. Hence, completing an apprenticeship programme might be advantageous during a job search. Your school may be able to help link you with potential employers, such as local manufacturers, for apprenticeship opportunities.

Related: Vocational Training: Definition, Types And Examples

5. Obtain relevant certifications

Regardless of whether or not you hold a degree, successfully completing an apprenticeship programme makes you qualified for certification as a credentialed worker in this field. Getting a certification is an indication that you have the right skill set to operate CNC machines. There are many institutes that offer certification programmes for CNC machinists, where candidates can appear for a performance-based written and practical exam. These institutes offer certifications at three levels:

  • Certified CNC Set-up Programmer

  • Certified Journey Worker

  • Certified Machinist

While certification is not a mandatory requirement, obtaining an endorsement from a credible institute has several advantages. From increasing your employability to offering better networking opportunities and enhancing your professional image, a certification is a worthwhile addition to your resume. It plays an important role in advancing your career and shows potential employers that you are regularly updating your skills.

Related: How To List Certifications On A Resume (With Examples)

6. Put your skills to work

As part of a certification programme, you may take lessons to improve communication and comprehension, to increase physical strength and stamina and to develop assertiveness and adaptability. The next step after becoming a certified CNC machinist is to find a place where you can put your skills and knowledge to good use. The manufacturing sector is one where you can find great opportunities for employment. Some of the potential employers for CNC machinists include:

  • Original equipment manufacturers

  • Aerospace industry

  • Automotive industry

  • Shipbuilding industry

  • Power generation sector

  • Engineering maintenance services

  • Railways

  • Defence forces

  • Healthcare industry

  • Oil and gas extraction companies

  • Marine engineering initiatives

Alternatively, some CNC machinists opt for self-employment and work as consultants. If your financial situation allows it, you can also acquire a machine to perform small industrial tasks to generate income.

Related: How To List Your Skills On A Resume (With Examples)

What Are The Primary Duties Of A CNC Machinist?

A CNC machinist's job often involves monitoring multiple machines and performing repetitive tasks. Their job also requires great attention to detail, time management and problem-solving skills. Here are some of the primary duties and responsibilities of CNC machinists:

  • Preparing and operating CNC machines to perform various tasks

  • Reading and interpreting blueprints and mechanical drawings for the task at hand

  • Translating instructions into computer language or commands to ensure that the machines can perform functions correctly

  • Preparing a test run to check if the machine produces the right output

  • Preparing and loading raw materials and parts onto the machines

  • Setting machines to complete full cycles for the mass fabrication of parts

  • Monitoring the machines while they execute tasks and making adjustments accordingly

  • Performing quality control checks by inspecting finished products for defects before they are ready for the market

  • Ensuring functionality by maintaining and cleaning the CNC machines

  • Ensuring compliance with safety procedures and protocols

Related: What Does A Machine Operator Do? (Duties And Salary)

Job Outlook And Earning Potential For CNC Machinists

The demand for CNC machinists is set to steadily improve. Most new job openings may arise from the need to replace workers who leave the field through retirement or natural attrition. As technology improves, the market demand for CNC machinists with skills to operate specialised manufacturing equipment is also likely to increase.

The national average salary of a CNC machinist is ₹19,388 per month. This figure may vary depending on the location, company size, industry and a candidate's level of experience. Experienced machinists typically earn much more than entry-level machinists and technicians in this career field.

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