Machinists make precision metal parts, either unique parts or parts in large quantities. They operate lathes, milling machines, and machining centers, and use their knowledge of the properties of metals to complete the production of specialized products that meet precise specifications. They start their work by planning and designing the tool, working with blueprints or written specifications. They then determine exactly where to make cuts and bores and select the tools they will need to perform the operations. After the preparation is complete, machinists position the tools, set the controls, and make the cuts. They constantly monitor the temperature of the workpiece because metal usually expands at high temperatures.
During the cutting process, machinists look and listen for problems that may arise. They remove and replace dull cutting tools, adjust cutting speeds, and use highly specialized measuring tools to check the accuracy of the cuts. Some machinists are known as production machinists and specialize in making large quantities of one single part. They often use modern machines that utilize computer numerically controlled (CNC) tools.
Machinists need to have the ability to solve complex problems in a timely manner. They should have mechanical aptitudes and be able to work independently without much direct supervision. They must be able to perform work that requires exceptional accuracy, meaning they should be in good physical shape and have the ability to concentrate for long periods of time.
In 2002, machinists earned a median hourly wage of $15.66. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $9.57, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $23.17. The following shows the median hourly wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of machinists:
- Metalworking machinery manufacturing: $16.75
- Other general purpose machinery manufacturing: $15.91
- Machine shops: $15.45
- Motor vehicle parts manufacturing: $15.18
- Employment services: $9.41
Training and Education
Machinists gain their training through a variety of different routes. Some complete apprenticeship programs, some are trained informally on the job, some get training in high school, and others earn degrees or certificates from vocational schools, community colleges, or technical colleges. Those interested in the occupation are highly encouraged to take high school courses in mathematics, trigonometry, blueprint reading, metalworking, and drafting. Apprenticeship programs usually last 4 years and include classroom and on-the-job training. More and more machinists get their training through 2-year associate degree programs at community or vocational colleges, but they usually must still gain on-the-job experience before they become fully qualified workers. Machinists advance by becoming CNC programmers, tool and die makers, or mold makers. They can also be promoted to supervisory or administrative positions. Some start their own businesses. Click here to see a list of schools offering CNC Training, and to contact their admissions departments for more information.
In 2002, barbers, including hair stylists, hair dresser, and cosmetologists, machinists held about 387,000 jobs. Most were employed in small machine shops or in manufacturing industries.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of machinists is expected to increase more slowly than the average. This is due to rising productivity in the occupation. As machinists become more efficient, fewer machinists will be required to complete the same amount of work. However, because machinists are responsible for the maintenance of these newer automated systems, their employment will not be affected as much by new technology. In fact, job opportunities are expected to be excellent because the number of job openings is expected to be substantially higher than the number of qualified applicants.