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Machine Operator Career Guide

Do you love working with your hands and figuring out how to run, repair, and maintain machines? Do you have excellent problem-solving skills and strong attention to detail? A job as a machine operator might be right for you. 

Machine operators are responsible for configuring and setting up equipment, loading and operating sophisticated machinery, and maintaining equipment to ensure it runs at optimal efficiency. They also perform regular quality and safety checks. These operators troubleshoot and identify problems as they occur and find solutions for them in a timely manner.

Machine operators are found in fast-paced environments, usually in factory settings, working with mechanical or computer-operated machinery. They are self-starters, technically inclined, have mechanical experience, and have excellent hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity. They work well with others, have a willingness to learn, and are able to follow detailed instructions. 

Sample job description

Skilled Machine Operators play an important role in the daily operations of our company. There are a variety of roles and responsibilities within this title. The types of roles include but are not limited to, performing various rendering and tissue processes, operating heavy equipment, charting and reporting progress and yields, and in many cases the use of tracking via computer, all while making safety the number one priority. While performing the duties of a Skilled Machine Operator, the employee is regularly exposed to moving mechanical parts and fast-paced environments. Positions require standing or walking the entire shift, the use of stairs, and occasionally the use of PPE. You should have proven experience operating and maintaining high-speed machinery, a good understanding of production procedures and best practices, and good physical stamina.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Calibrate machines to ensure proper startup and operation
  • Routinely check and clean machines
  • Monitor and control machine performance and settings
  • Regularly test machine performance and operating capacity
  • Adhere to safe work practices
  • Communicate with team members and support teams to ensure continuous production of the correct product with minimal wasted time and materials
  • Install, maintain, and repair machinery using appropriate tools
  • Work with others to ensure equipment is in proper working order
  • Observe and follow company safety rules and regulations
  • Maintain a log of the activity
  • Regularly submit performance reports

Education and experience

  • High School Diploma/GED
  • Aptitude for math, problem-solving, computers, and mechanics
  • Associates degree or completion of related apprenticeship program preferred.
  • 3-5 years of related experience

Required skills and qualifications

  • Ability to follow written and verbal instructions
  • Ability to interpret and implement blueprints, schematics, and manuals
  • Ability to quickly learn production equipment
  • Strong analytical and problem-solving skills.
  • Significant experience with diverse high-speed machinery and measurement tools٫ such as calipers, micrometers, etc.
  • Excellent understanding of production procedures
  • Attention to detail
  • Physical stamina and strength
  • Knowledge of different types of machines and tools

Preferred qualifications

  • Strong teamwork and communication skills
  • Experience in a high-speed machine operation environment
  • Ability to multitask
  • Ability to work independently
  • Solid written and verbal communication skills
  • Proficiency in math
  • Basic computer skills

Typical work environment

Machine operators typically work indoors in manufacturing and production plants, warehouses, distribution plants, or workshops. Usually, machine operators work with mechanically-based equipment, but may sometimes work with computer-controlled machines. These environments can be dangerous due to the heavy machinery involved. Machine operators are often exposed to loud, noisy machines and heavy objects and generally wear protective clothing or other safety gear to minimize risks.

Typical hours

The hours a machine operator works will vary. They might work day shifts, night shifts, weekend shifts, and overtime to keep up with production needs. Some factories run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Available certifications

Depending on which industry a machine operator works in, there are a number of institutions that offer certifications, including:

  • OSHA Safety Certificate. This is a 40-hour program that covers construction and general industry safety standards. You’ll learn about health issues related to a work environment, how to recognize physical hazards in violation of OSHA standards, and employer implementation of proactive safety and health procedures.
  • Certificate of Completion (CCL) in CNC Machine Operator. Many community colleges offer this certificate program that prepares students for entry-level positions as machine operators and technicians. You’ll learn the skills needed to operate Computer Numeric Control (CNC) machines in the manufacturing industry. This certificate shows you have the skills needed to excel in the industry.  
  • Machine Tool Technology. This certificate is offered through tech schools and teaches students hands-on mechanical as well as computer control machining. The program develops the knowledge and skills necessary to perform machining operations. The Certifications are nationally recognized and give graduates a great opportunity to land the best jobs as machine operators and to earn higher wages.

Career path

To become a machine operator, candidates will need a high school diploma or a GED. After high school, taking classes in computer programming, shop, blueprint reading, and math, including algebra and geometry, is beneficial. 

There are many paths a machine operator can take as there are various industries in which they can work. A machine operator can pursue a career working on small, private office machines to large mining machines. Career paths include working with extruding and drawing machines, construction and moving machines, drilling and boring machines, welding, soldering, and brazing machines, and digging and excavating machines.

Many businesses offer apprenticeships for students where they can gain valuable experience. Others learn by on-the-job training.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 51-4000

2020 Employment1,109,400
Projected Employment in 20301,033,600
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 7% decrease
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift75,800 decrease

A major trend in the industry is the use of labor-saving machinery. Many companies are implementing advanced technologies in the workplace, such as computer numerically controlled (CNC) tools and robots. These advancements will continue to improve quality and lower production costs. The impact to workers is that CNC equipment will employ more computer programmers than machine operators, reducing the demand for manual machine operators, although the demand for CNC programmers is expected to increase. 

Growing foreign competition for metal and plastic parts will affect demand for machine operators in the future as it is expected to continue to decrease the orders for parts produced in this country. Some U.S. manufacturers have moved their production to foreign countries, further reducing job opportunities for machine operators in the US. On the other hand, companies bringing jobs back to the United States from overseas is a good sign for machine operators. This trend is expected to continue over the coming decade.