What Does a CNC Operator Do? Career, Skills and Salary

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 26 January 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) machining is a process that helps in automating industrial products by using pre-programmed software. CNC machines can cut, grind or drill required shapes from materials including metal and plastic. A CNC operator is a technician who is qualified and trained to operate CNC machines. Knowing about the role of a CNC operator and the required qualifications can help you decide whether this is the right career for you. In this article, we answer "What does a CNC operator do?", discuss how to become one and look at how much salary CNC operators can earn in a year.

What does a CNC operator do?

A CNC operator produces machine parts by programming, setting up and operating a CNC machine. Maintaining equipment, adhering to quality and safety standards and keeping detailed part records are some core responsibilities of a CNC operator. Some other common duties may include the following:

  • follow all company policies and safety protocols

  • set up equipment using proper calibration procedures

  • participate in regular safety and training classes

  • follow guidelines for operating machinery

  • perform inspections of the work area and machines at the beginning and end of each shift

  • use proper handling techniques to load raw materials and unload castings

  • perform daily and regular cleaning and light maintenance tasks on CNC machinery

  • use specialised instruments to ensure quality requirements

How do CNC machines work?

CNC machines are software-controlled electromechanical devices that create and generate prototypes from digital files. Some examples of CNC machines are a lathe, grinder, miller, cutter, router and welder. A robot can also be a CNC machine. They can cut materials or move items in an assembly line. Manufacturers use them to create customised parts for very specific purposes. These machines can successfully create parts from aluminium, steel, brass, plastic, wood, phenolic and foam.

Which industries use CNC machines?

Industries that need high volumes of precision components, customised devices and frequently create prototypes use CNC machines. The following industries may use multiple CNC machines in their manufacturing units:

  • medical

  • electronic

  • oil and gas

  • marine

  • aerospace

  • transportation

  • defence

How much does a CNC operator make?

CNC operators may be entry-level technicians or top-level experts who manage entire teams. Their pay may depend on factors like experience, expertise, industry and the scale of their operations. The average base salary of a CNC operator is ₹14,229 per month.

Requirements to become a CNC operator

Manufacturing companies look for multiple eligibility criteria while recruiting a CNC operator for their factory or machine workshops. Some of these requirements may include:


If you are a beginner, a company may require a Secondary School Certificate (SSC) equivalent to the 10th standard or a Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) equivalent to the 12th standard. If a company is looking for an advanced CNC operator, they may specifically ask for diplomas in mechanical operations or engineering as additional qualifications. Jobs in the aerospace and aeronautics industry usually require an engineering degree as a basic qualification for CNC operators.


A certification programme relevant to CNC may be a mandatory requirement. Companies may also look for certifications in advanced mathematics, technical drafting, machine tools, blueprint reading and computer-aided design (CAD) courses for intermediate and advanced level jobs.

You can complete a CNC certification after completion of SSC or HSC. If you are new to the industry or want to refresh your skills, you can consider enrolling in these courses. Some of the most common certifications for CNC operators are:

  • CNC machining practise

  • CNC operator courses - Levels 1 to 4

  • CNC programming and operation

  • Programming and machining practices on CNC milling

  • Advanced diploma in CNC programming techniques

Related: How To List Certifications on a Resume (With Examples)

Skills for CNC operators

If you want to become a CNC operator, consider developing these skills:

Analytical skills

CNC operators work with many documents like drawings and blueprints containing detailed technical specifications. It is important for them to understand such specifications clearly to create products and parts accurately. Thus, analytical skills can be a highly beneficial skill for CNC operators to succeed.

Related: Analytical Skills: Definition, Tips and Examples

Mathematical and software skills

Since CNC machines work on pre-programmed software, knowledge of CAD software is an essential skill. Most companies also specify mathematics as a basic requirement to measure dimensions and understand complex sets of instructions. Since CNC operators regularly perform mathematical calculations where the dimensions may range from one-hundredth of an inch to one-thousandth of a micron, they must be adept at advanced mathematics.

Engineering skills

A thorough understanding of mechanical engineering helps operators to understand how a CNC machine works. It also helps them in troubleshooting unanticipated challenges like the breakdown of machinery. As their experience increases, CNC operators may clean, calibrate and maintain the machine.

Attention to detail

CNC machines are precision instruments. Any error during programming or operation can lead to a faulty output. Therefore, CNC operators must have sharp observational skills to identify even the most minute error. Many companies specify attention to detail as a key skill for the role and may even conduct assessments for the same during the interview.

Problem-solving skills

A good CNC operator has to know if a machine is working at its optimum level, identify problems with its output and figure out the root cause. CNC operators constantly face design-output mismatch, lack of uniform output and other mechanical problems with the machines. An operator with good problem-solving skills can rectify such problems easily.

How to become a CNC operator

You may these steps to become a CNC operator:

1. Complete higher secondary education

Most employers require an SSC or an HSC as a basic academic qualification. After completing SSC or HSC, you may consider earning a diploma. Popular diplomas for CNC operators are in tool technologies, CAD programming or CNC machine operations. These diplomas equip you with practical skills and increase your employability as a job candidate.

2. Earn technical certifications

Many vocational schools, polytechnic colleges and central and state government institutes offer different machine operation courses. These are short-term courses that last six to eight weeks. Many private institutes and online platforms also offer CNC-related courses. Some of the top institutes that offer CNC courses include:

  • National Skill Development Corporation

  • MSME Technology Centre

  • MSME Tool Room

  • Central Tool Room and Training Centre

  • Government Polytechnic Colleges

  • Central Tool Room and Training Centre

  • MSME Development Institute

3. Gain work experience

Many employers stipulate prior work experience as a requirement for the job. To gain work experience, you can work as a trainee at your institute or take up an apprenticeship at a local machine shop or factory. You may also apply for internships and consequently apply for a full-time opportunity in the same company with experience. Considering the technical nature of the role and the niche skill set required, this is the norm in the industry.

4. Prepare your resume

Clearly mention the highest level of education you have completed and details of certifications in your resume. Highlight relevant work experience, skills and certifications to increase your chances of being selected. If you have verifiable references and recommendations from your training institute or place of internship, you may add them too after taking due permissions.

Related: How To Make a Resume (With Examples)

5. Apply to open positions

After completing your education, certification and internship programmes, you can start applying for jobs. Some institutes also have placement cells to help their students find relevant employment opportunities. Look up job sites, job boards, newspaper classifieds and follow companies to keep track of their vacancies and job postings.

Is a CNC machine operator course important?

Yes, one has to learn CNC operation as it is a highly technical, complex and advanced process. Reading blueprints and operating large CNC machines requires adequate learning, training and knowledge. With structured learning, you can get the required skills, obtain comprehensive knowledge and improve your accuracy. Dedicated CNC machine operator courses and certifications also help understand different aspects of the machines and are the best way to access relevant employment opportunities.

What is the scope of career advancement for a CNC operator?

As a CNC operator, there is significant scope and opportunity for career growth. After some years of experience, a CNC operator may become a CNC programmer or setup operator. You can also become a supervisor or a trainer after a few more years of experience. These advancements and promotions are accompanied by a higher salary, better benefits and enhanced leadership opportunities.

Related: What Is a CNC Programmer? (Duties, Skills and Qualifications)

CNC operator work environment

CNC operators work in manufacturing facilities or machine workshops that are may have unfavourable working conditions, like high noise levels or temperatures. Most work environments also require following strict safety protocols because of the increased level of risk and hazard. The work environment for a CNC operator may include:

  • standing for a long time

  • bending, reaching, lifting and carrying very heavy objects

  • working with heavy machine tooling equipment

  • adhering to equipment safety rules and safe work practices

  • wearing personal protective equipment, such as safety glasses and earplugs

  • working with CAD (computer-aided design) and CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) programs

  • reporting to the supervisor or manager and maintain the efficiency of processes

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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.

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