Home / Career Guides / Machinist

Machinist Career Guide

What is a machinist?

A machinist is a skilled professional who uses machine tools to create or modify parts, primarily metal ones, though modern workplaces can work with various materials. This process of cutting, drilling, and shaping is known as machining. Their work plays a vital role in a variety of industries, including the manufacture of aircraft, automotive parts, and medical devices, among others. They are instrumental in producing the tools and parts that keep various sector operations running.

These professionals also operate and maintain various machines and play an integral part in the manufacturing process. They are often seen as the driving force behind much of the precision work in a manufacturing setting. Their contribution extends beyond just creating the parts – they are also part of planning and problem-solving during the production process, making this profession more than just an assembly line role. Their expertise assists in solving technical problems, improving efficiency, and, in some cases, inventing new machines or tools.

Duties and responsibilities

A machinist’s duties and responsibilities span across various operations related to machine handling and component production. These include reading and interpreting blueprints, sketches, drawings, manuals, specifications, or sample parts to determine the dimensions and tolerances of finished workpieces. They also measure, mark, and scribe dimensions and reference points on materials or workpieces using measuring tools like rulers, calipers, micrometers, or other measuring instruments.

They are responsible for setting up, adjusting, and operating all of the basic machine tools and many specialized or advanced variation tools to perform precision machining. They often observe and listen to operating machines or equipment to diagnose malfunctions and adjust machine controls as required. These professionals may also devise new ways to carry out tasks that require considerable adaptiveness, indicating that their role evolves alongside technological progression in machine capabilities.

Work environment

Machinists typically work in well-lit and ventilated areas, including factories, workshops, and machine shops. The use of heavy machinery often results in noisy environments, requiring them to wear protective gear such as earplugs, gloves, and safety glasses. Despite safety measures, they may be exposed to hazardous conditions due to the nature of the materials they work with and the machinery they operate. This profession involves standing for long periods and performing physically demanding tasks, including lifting heavy items. These factors make physical stamina and strength important for professionals in this role.

Typical work hours

Regarding work hours, machinists generally work full time, often including evenings and weekends, particularly in industries that operate around the clock. Overtime may be frequent during peak production periods. However, with the advent of CNC (computer numerical controlled) machines that can operate without constant supervision, some professionals may now be able to adhere to the traditional 40-hour workweek. The exact hours can vary greatly depending on the specific industry and the demands of the particular role.

How to become a machinist

This career guide section outlines the process of becoming a machinist, including completing the necessary education, gaining relevant experience, and acquiring professional certification.

Step 1: Complete high school

The first step is getting a high school diploma or equivalency. Many high schools offer metalworking or shop classes, which are advantageous as they can give you a head start in understanding the tools and procedures you’ll be dealing with in this role.

Step 2: Earn a post-secondary award

Though it is not a strict requirement, many opt to complete a post-secondary program in machine technology or a related field. These courses are typically available at community colleges and technical schools. These programs equip you with the foundational knowledge necessary for a profession in machining, including CNC programming, machine blueprints, and metalworking.

Step 3: Gain professional experience

Obtaining on-the-job experience is crucial. Apprenticeships, internships, or entry-level positions can give you hands-on experience with machining equipment and techniques under the supervision of experienced professionals. This experience allows you to see first-hand what the day-to-day responsibilities of the role involve, and it is often a requirement when you apply for more advanced roles.

Step 4: Obtain necessary certifications

Certification is not mandatory, but it can significantly improve your employability. Certifications prove your professional skills and knowledge to potential employers. The National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) offers a variety of certificates, such as CNC Turning, CNC Milling, and Metalworking. Acquiring these can help make you a more attractive candidate in the job market.

Step 5: Apply for machinist positions

After acquiring the necessary education, experience, and certifications, you can start applying for positions. Try to highlight any special skills or expertise you possess in your application, and be ready to discuss your practical experience in interviews. With determination, hard work, and the right tools, you’ll be well on your way to a successful career.

How much do machinists make?

Machinist salaries vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Factors unique to this job impacting compensation include specialized skill set, precision of work, understanding of machinery, and technical knowledge.

Highest paying industries

  • Natural Gas Distribution – $71,020
  • Electric Power Generation – $67,810
  • Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing – $64,500
  • Spectator Sports – $63,320
  • Motor Vehicle Manufacturing – $63,150

Highest paying states

  • Hawaii – $61,070
  • New Mexico – $59,700
  • Alaska – $59,480
  • Washington – $58,960
  • Connecticut – $58,400

Browse machinist salary data by market

Types of machinists

Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for machinists. This section provides an extensive overview of the various job roles they might encounter during their professional journey.

CNC machinist

A CNC machinist operates and maintains computer numerically controlled machines. The role typically requires a niche set of skills, including computer programming, attention to detail, and problem-solving. This specialist type of machinist creates parts and tools using precision computer equipment. These parts are often used for various applications like automobiles, aircraft, or even complicated medical equipment.

Manual machinist

Unlike their CNC counterparts, manual machinists work with hand-powered equipment or machinery requiring human operation. They cut, shape, and finish various materials, usually metal, to create individual parts. These professionals should have strong attention to detail, practical skills, and an understanding of technical drawings.

Maintenance machinist

A professional in a maintenance machinist role typically oversees the upkeep of a variety of industrial or factory-based machinery. Precision, troubleshooting abilities, and competency in repair are vital qualities for this role. Their primary objective is maintaining a facility’s productivity by preventing and addressing mechanical issues.

Tool and die machinist

A tool and die machinist specializes in creating tools, dies, and other specialized devices used in manufacturing processes. They utilize both automated machinery and manual tools to complete their tasks. Their specific expertise in crafting precise tools makes them instrumental in industries that require high degrees of precision and specificity, like the automotive or aerospace industries.

General machinist

A general machinist is a versatile role that covers a broad scope of tasks from setting up machines, making adjustments to conform to blueprint specifications, assembling parts, and inspecting completed products for quality. This kind of machinist can work in different sectors and has the flexibility to adapt to varied industry needs.

Top skills for machinists

This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as a machinist.

Mathematical proficiency

With understanding and working with numerical data being a vital part of the job, it becomes essential to have a profound understanding of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and even statistics. Measurements, cuts, and alterations require precise execution, which can only be accomplished using sound mathematical skills.

Mechanical skills

Working with machinery requires an understanding of how different mechanical components work together. This involves reading and comprehending technical manuals, schematics, and blueprints. Additionally, being able to troubleshoot any mechanical issues that may arise is a key aspect in this field.

Physical stamina and strength

The job often involves long hours of standing and operating heavy machinery, which requires good physical stamina. Likewise, lifting heavy parts and materials is common, so physical strength also plays an important role.

Precision and attention to detail

The nature of their work requires acute attention to detail. Given the precision necessary for most tasks, the ability to focus on small measurements and fine details is paramount. It ensures the manufacturing process is efficient and the end product meets quality standards.

Problem-solving skills

Identifying and fixing issues with machines or manufactured products is an important aspect of the job. It requires a logical approach that includes evaluating options and implementing solutions.

Machinist career path options

If you’re working as a machinist, you might be considering what your future career path looks like. Often, these professionals choose to specialize in a certain type of machinery or technology. Over time, your skills, experience, and additional training can lead to roles like team lead or supervisor. This supervisory position involves managing a team of machinists and overseeing the workflow in the machine shop.

Career progression to master machinist

One potential step up in your career might be to become a master machinist. This role involves mastering advanced skills, typically through long-term experience and sometimes further education. They often serve as technical experts, lending their expertise to solve complex problems and help design new products or machinery. This role requires a high level of skill and knowledge but can be both rewarding and lucrative.

Moving toward management roles

Another direction your career path could take is toward management roles, such as shop manager or even operations manager. These managers are often responsible for everything from budgeting to personnel management. However, moving into these management roles typically requires not just technical expertise but also soft skills like communication, leadership, and strategic planning. Some professionals may choose to further their education by pursuing degrees in business or industrial management to prepare for these responsibilities.

Being an independent contractor

Finally, some may choose an entirely different career path: becoming an independent contractor. This move involves running your own business, either in a niche machining area or as a general machinist for hire. While this path provides freedom and flexibility, it also requires business knowledge and the ability to market yourself and your skills.

In terms of the job market, machinists have seen a shift in demand due to advancements in the industry. Modern production techniques have made tasks easier and faster, requiring fewer professionals in factories and shops. However, while the demand has reduced in manufacturing, it has increased in specialized industries because of the need for precision and custom-made items.

This mix of decreasing and increasing demand indicates a shift rather than a decline. The market for specialized machinists who can create intricate mechanical components is growing. Likewise, many established professionals are expected to retire in the next decade, which may result in a significant number of jobs opening up.

In today’s technologically driven industries, businesses are also seeking those who can operate and manage computer-controlled machines. The trend is toward a more versatile workforce with higher expertise and the skills to perform various tasks on different machines.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for machinists is projected to grow by 1 percent through 2031. The need to replace workers who retire or otherwise leave the occupation should result in some job openings. However, many job opportunities will also come from the need to create new machinery and tools for various industries.

Machinist career tips

Keep up with technological developments

One of the ways to stay ahead in this profession is to frequently update your knowledge of emerging technologies, tools, and machining processes. The industry is rapidly evolving, and being familiar with new technological advancements such as CNC and advanced machining principles can help set you apart from your peers.

Pursue relevant certifications

Acquiring professional certifications can greatly benefit your career. It validates your expertise, can enhance your credibility, and may lead to opportunities for advancement. Consider certifications from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), such as the CNC Machinist certification or the Certified Manufacturing Technologist (CMfgT) certification from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME).

Stay attentive to safety protocols

The manufacturing environment can be hazardous if you’re not mindful and fully adherent to safety protocols. Knowledge of safety systems and regular training can assist in reducing accidents and injuries. Supervisors and managers who are deciding on promotions may also notice a strong safety record.

Build a professional network

Having a solid network of professionals in the industry is beneficial. It provides a platform for exchanging ideas, learning from experienced machinists, and building relationships that can open up opportunities. It can also be critical when looking for new job opportunities.

  • National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA)
  • Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME)
  • National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS)

Commit to continuous learning

The industry constantly evolves, so learning opportunities are always available. By investing time in improving your expertise, whether in mastering a new machine or learning a new programming language, you’re positioning yourself for success. Consider:

  • Taking advanced training courses in CNC machining
  • Attending workshops and seminars related to the manufacturing industry
  • Enrolling in online courses that cover new technologies or advanced machining processes

Where the machinist jobs are

Top employers

  • General Electric
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Caterpillar Inc.
  • Ford Motor Company
  • Honeywell International Inc.

Top states

  • California
  • Ohio
  • Michigan
  • Texas
  • Illinois

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • Monster
  • CareerBuilder
  • SimplyHired


What types of machinery should I be familiar with as a machinist?

Professionals in this field should know how to operate and maintain various types of machinery, including lathes, milling machines, and grinders, to name a few. CAD/CAM technology is also commonly used in modern machining, so proficiency with this software can be a valuable asset.

Do I need a formal education to work as a machinist?

While entering this field with a high school diploma and on-the-job training is possible, many employers prefer candidates with post-secondary education in machining. A diploma, certificate, or associate’s degree in a related field can enhance your job prospects significantly.

Are there any certifications for machinists?

Yes, many organizations offer certifications that can demonstrate your abilities to prospective employers. The NIMS is one such organization, as is the ASQ, which offers a Certified Quality Inspector credential.

What is the work environment like for machinists?

The work environment for this profession can vary, but most people in this line of work spend their time in factories or machine shops. The job can be physically demanding, and wearing protective gear like safety glasses, earplugs, and steel-toe boots is often necessary.

Is there any potential for career advancement as a machinist?

Yes, with experience and additional training, you could advance to a supervisory or management position. Some people in this profession also go on to open their own shops. Further specializations, such as becoming a tool-and-die maker, are also an option.

What are the major industries that employ machinists?

The manufacturing industry is the most prominent employer. Within this broad category, the most common sectors are automotive manufacturing, aerospace production, and machinery manufacturing. However, other industries, such as construction and electronics, also employ them to a lesser extent.

What are the usual working hours for machinists?

Working hours for this profession can vary significantly depending on the industry and specific employer. However, a standard workweek of 40 hours is typical. Shift work, including nights and weekends, may also be required in certain settings where machinery operates around the clock.

Can machinists work remotely?

Generally, they cannot work remotely as their work involves physical interaction with machinery. However, certain aspects, like the programming of CNC machines or design and planning stages, can sometimes be done remotely.

What kind of physical demands are associated with being a machinist?

The job can be physically demanding, involving standing for long periods and sometimes lifting heavy objects. The noise levels in a machine shop can be high, and the work involves cutting oils and metal chips. Proper safety equipment and attention to safety protocols are paramount.