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How to Become a CNC Machinist

Computer numerically controlled (CNC) machinists work with heavy machinery to produce parts made of plastic, metal, or other materials. If you have a knack for working with large machinery, are knowledgeable in how to develop and operate computer and mechanically controlled tools, and like working independently, becoming a CNC machinist could be a great career choice. 

You will need to be able to know the CNC programs to be able to set rates and cuts of production. You must also possess basic math skills, as the machinery will need to be programmed. Though entry level positions as a CNC machinist can be easy to find, if you develop your skills and become an expert, the career opportunities are much more rewarding. Most CNC machinists will receive training from a trade school, which can take anywhere from 9-12 months.

Sample job description

[Your Company Name] is searching for a seasoned CNC machinist. We are specifically looking for someone with great intelligence and advanced skills that can work with a variety of machines to create tools. CNC machinists are responsible for setting up and operating different CNC machines and equipment. This position requires skills in mechanical design, technical drawings, mathematics, and computer programming, so they can produce critical products in our world today. If you have a passion for computer technology and have an eye for detail, you may be the perfect candidate for fulfilling this position as a CNC machinist.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Examine and analyze blueprints, sketches, and computer-related files
  • Set up and operate computer numerically controlled (CNC) tools 
  • Measure and examine the effectiveness of completed products
  • Produce products to specifications 
  • Operate various machinery

Education and experience

This position requires a high school diploma or equivalent. Community colleges and technical schools offer programs to train in this field. 

Required skills and qualifications

  • Critical-thinking and decision-making skills
  • Expertise in math and computer applications
  • Manual dexterity
  • Strong mechanical and technical skills
  • Knowledge of technical machinery

Preferred qualifications

  • Minimum 3 years of experience setting up and operating CNC and/or manual machinery
  • Understanding of G&M code or CNC controllers
  • Ability to perform machine setups with little to no supervision

Typical work environment

CNC machinists work in a variety of settings, including machine shops or manufacturing facilities in industries such as motor vehicle manufacturing, aerospace products and parts manufacturing, and mechanical engineering. CNC machinists are typically found working 40 hour weeks where they spend their time checking up on machines to make sure they are functioning properly and producing parts that meet required specifications. 

Typical hours

CNC machinists typically work business hours from 9 AM to 5 PM, but may be required to be available on some evenings and weekends as shops are open around the clock. If working in a shop, CNC machinists may be exposed to hazards and must follow precautions to avoid these hazards, such as wearing protective clothing. 

Available certifications

Most companies want potential candidates to have previous training or certifications completed to demonstrate competence as CNC machinists. Check out the following: 

  • Advanced CNC Programming Certificate (ACNC). Many technical colleges around the United States offer their students this certificate to develop skills in advanced machining and CNC operations. This program also teaches its participants to cut, drill, and shape metal into useful parts. This certificate is ideal for anyone interested in pursuing a career as a CNC machinist.
  • CNC Machining Program. The CNC Machining Program is offered at various technical and regular colleges. Students in this program will utilize industry tools, equipment, and procedures as entry-level machinists. Certain skills will be developed throughout the course, including blueprint reading, sketching, design, CNC operation, and CNC program. Earning the certificate that comes along with completing the program will show future employers your passion and commitment to the job.

Career path

This position requires a high school diploma or equivalent. Employers may prefer candidates who have on-the-job experience or who have certifications or an associate degree in a technical or mechanical field. CNC machinists have the opportunity to advance to a position such as electro-mechanical technician. 

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 51-4041

2020 Employment363,000
Projected Employment in 2030391,800
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 8% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift28,800 increase

With technological innovations like computer numerically controlled (CNC) tools and different machining types, CNC machinists will be in demand to set up, monitor, and maintain these systems. Individuals have the opportunity to develop their professional and industry knowledge and skills through networking, training, and other resources created by the National Tooling and Machining Association.